Is Technology Taking Over Your Summer? These Tips Will Help You Balance Online and Offline Fun

Many of our visions of summertime include thinking of kids splashing in the pool, exploring the woods, riding bikes, going to camps and programs, and hanging out with friends. There is certainly a wide menu of options for kids in the summertime and there are more hours to fill with fun.

But there are powerful magnets keeping kids indoors as well. Technology can be a wonderful part of summertime fun and learning, as long as it doesn't become the "default" activity for hours on end.

Here are ways to enjoy digital media this summer without letting it crowd out other fun:

  • Model healthy media use. Pay attention to your own media use in the summertime. Are you checking your email at dinner or texting the entire soccer game? Be deliberate about when you are plugged in to family and when you are plugged in to media.
  • Start with a media plan. Talk with your kids about goals and ideas for summer fun. How should media fit into it? What are the rules and expectations? As your kids get older encourage them to generate ideas.
  • Encourage active over passive. Sitting in front of the television is not nearly as much fun as engaging in problem solving and collaboration. There is nothing wrong with a favorite TV show but encourage your kids to spend their screen time creating content or using apps/games designed to make learning fun.
  • Choose high quality fun. There are a sea of apps and games that promise to be the best but how do you choose the ones that actually promote learning and are fun? Check out Common Sense Media's new Summer Learning Guide for ideas. They curated a list so that you don't have to.
  • Use technology to get moving and exploring. There are lots of ways to incorporate high quality but minimal technology into outdoor summer fun. Geocaching, Map My Ride, photo challenges, and digital scrapbooks are just a few ideas.
  • Get your kids to help. Going on a family trip? Wondering about why the lake at the cabin is green this year? Looking for local markets and events? Have your kids use their screen time to help map out a route, look for local resources, or learn about a local issue.
  • Don't be afraid of boredom. Resist the urge to fill boredom with shows or apps. Sometimes young people's most creative moments emerge from these down times.
  • Ask questions. Ask questions about what your kids are up to online, what they are watching and playing, and what they think about it.
  • Set limits. Enforce your media plan in as calm and clear a way as you can. For example, "You chose to use your screen time playing video games this morning so now it is time for the games to go away. If you choose to continue playing, you are choosing no screen time tomorrow." Check out our tips on setting limits and consequences for more strategies.
  • Choose your sacred spaces. Agree as a family which parts of the day will be unplugged. Meals? Hour after dinner? Before breakfast? Make sure everyone in the family sticks to it.

While the tips above work for young people and children alike, here are a few more tips specific to teens:

  • Listen. What does your teen love most about their online lives? Why? What are the challenges? Is it easier or harder to manage their media lives in the summer? Ask questions. Listen.
  • Encourage them to Stop. Think. Act. Young people's emotional lives are wrapped in their online relationships and without the regular structure of school, managing these relationships can be more difficult. Small conflicts can blow up very quickly online. Talk to your teen about the development of their prefrontal cortex (PFC) and encourage them to come up with strategies to pause between their emotional response and action online/text. Even a few breaths might give their PFC a chance to catch up and guide their decisions with long term consequences in mind.
  • Encourage face-to-face connections. Despite young people's reputation for spending all their time online, most teens actually prefer face-to-face friendships. Encourage all the ways that your teen engages with his or her friends in real life and try to make your home a welcoming place for young people to hang out. Guess who young people will go to when they have a problem after their parents? The parents of their best friend.
  • Pay attention. Is your teen sad when they get offline? Happy? Does he or she spend time with friends offline? Still engaged in sports, clubs or other activities? If you are concerned, check your own anxiety before you begin a conversation with your teen and be prepared to listen. For example, "I notice that you seem really angry after you spend a lot of time online. Do you notice that?"
  • Don't ignore warning signs. If you do notice that your teen is showing signs of depression, anxiety, or internet addiction don't ignore the issue. Talk to your teen and look for outside support.
  • Loosen, but don't let go. Just because your teen is asking for unlimited freedom in the summer months, doesn't mean they can handle it. Choose the boundaries that are most important to you and your family and enforce them consistently.
  • Avoid power struggles. Our tips on "How to Talk to Teenagers" may help you navigate conflict around technology in the summertime.