The Very Best Thing for Your Child Ever in the History of the Universe When It Comes to Screens and Summertime

by Erin Nelson- July 18, 2013 • 11:39 am

I was a latchkey kid in the early 80s. Also, I was dorky. Translation: what was my favorite way to spend that lovely hour after I let myself in (and locked the door behind me, drew the shades, followed strict orders never to answer the door) and before my parents got home? Stretched out on my stomach on the living room floor, reading Ann Landers in the daily paper. Without fail. My appetite for the gory details of other folks’ odd predicaments and questionable manners never waned. “Who are these people?” I’d wonder. What a relief that I’d never be like them. Which comforted me almost as much as the other brand of advice column I adored: the surefire tips and 10 easy steps to … better health, a better-organized home, a better life, all of which appeared every month, in every women’s magazine that hit our mailbox.

This memory returned last week when I started gathering parents’ advice for handling kids’ tech habits during summer vacation. I asked readers: “Is it harder to limit TV, video games, phone use when school’s out? Do you feel like kids see summer, without the natural limit of school hours, as one long weekend? Is this a problem, in your mind?”

My expectation? Tons of moms and dads would agree with my implicit suggestion that this is a problem and divulge their secrets for how to limit screen time, provide top-notch enrichment and ensure kids appreciate Every Drop Of Fresh Air … So that our readers could tuck 10 Trusted Tips into their mental back pockets, equipped to make this The Best Summer Ever.

But I realized that now that I’m a parent (6 years ago today, as a matter of fact!), the reason I still love advice columns, from Dear Prudence to Dear Sugar, is not so I can gawk incredulously at other people’s problems or be lured down an impossible path to perfection (Bliss in Just 2 Weeks!), but so I can experience what is probably everyone’s number-one need: to know I’m not alone.

Meaning: not alone in my persistent anxiety that no matter how hard I try not to, because of my flaws and eff-ups and sometimes downright crappy attitude, I’m going to mess up my kid. Like, big time. For life. I’m going to give her too little. Or too much. Or the right amount, but at the wrong time. So when I want to hear how other parents handle the overwhelming responsibility of preparing a human being for The World, what I really want is to hear that they are kind of (needlessly) freaking out, too. And that at least one person out there is doing things the way my husband and I do. And that others are doing the complete opposite, or something in-between. And that all the kids and parents are pretty much going to be Just Fine.

So, with that in mind, if you’ve come here to find out how to do The Very Best Thing For Your Child Ever In The History Of The Universe When It Comes To Screens And Summertime, you’ve come to the wrong place.

However, if you’d like to hear stories about how different families work and maybe find a kindred spirit, step right up.



For many families, summer’s no different from winter, spring or fall.

Amanda: Because our work schedules haven’t changed, it’s just business as usual around here with the kids in camp all day. As for video games, we don’t have any and my son thinks my iPhone didn’t come with games (“… because those phones are out of our budget”). He bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Danielle: We have limited screen time, they get 1 hour a day to spend how they want. I set a kitchen timer so there is no argument over the time, when the timer goes off the TV or video game goes off, too. They’ve had this rule for years and it works great, since everyone knows the guidelines!

Tiffany: We do poker chips, just like during the school year. Each chip is worth 30 minutes of electronics, and each child gets 5 a week. I like it because it gives them the power to determine what they want to use them for.

Damaris (of Kitchen Corners): Each kid gets 30 minutes on the iPad a day, just like during the school year. If their cousins are around I’m a little more relaxed because most of the time they’re so busy playing they don’t even care about watching. Other times they need to relax and I let them watch a Disney movie.


Ohers, whose kids are home with them a lot of the time, Made a Plan.

Wendy (of Wendolonia): It was really important that I set expectations upfront, because my son did think summer meant unlimited screen time. Other than the extra screen time I give him in the mornings, we’re sticking to the same schedule we use during the school year. We use a chart that’s working really well.

Elena (of Live Do Grow): I’m pretty strict with screen time: 1 hour computer, 1 hour TV. We use a learning contract with choices of (educational) activities to do each day that’s been working out well.

Therese wants limits, but also wrote: I’m definitely struggling, especially on really hot days or rainy days. I just have to give them a certain end time where they take a break from screens for a few hours.

Daisy: We have situations in which games, books on tape and iPod music zoning makes more sense: during travel or illness recovery. (Sometimes I’m the one recovering from illness, by the way.) I also told my girls, after many requests for TV and games, to create projects for themselves. My 6-year-old picked up a fun book series with craft portion from the library, and my 9-year-old started sewing tiny felt birds of prey. Who knew?

Amy (aka blogger Kimchi Mom) found that her kids weren’t the only ones who need limits: I started limiting screen time during the school year, and it has carried over to the summer. I made up “Technology T Days,” meaning the kids can have limited TV or iPhone on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m less strict on weekends. I found that when I limited the time, they seemed less addicted and I felt less dependent on the devices, too (though some days are better than others). The other day the kids actually turned off the TV themselves and played together with their toys. Made a bigger mess, but I was glad.


Plenty of you don’t really curb screen time—and even allow more during the summer.

Kim (of Hormone-Colored Days): We’re more generous with screen time in the summer, as long as the kids get some outdoor time and physical exercise.

Kris (of Little Tech Girl) agrees: I’m with Kim. I’m not so strict with screen time. I need my sanity! My kids spend plenty of time playing as well. They build forts out of pillows, etc. They play hide-and-go-seek and much more between games and movies.

Ana (of Finding Bongga Mom) does, too: I’m with Kris and Kim—more screen time. But they still have to read for at least 30 minutes a day and play in the backyard at least 30 minutes a day.


For some of you, unplugged vacations—for everyone—are key.

Carol: Unplugged vacations are great! Parents need that, too. Of course, we cheated and allowed a couple of movies into our unplugged vacation.

Lynne: We just came back from an unplugged vacation, sort of. No WiFi, no Internet. Spotty mobile service, so essentially no phones. No TVs in the cabin where we stayed. The kids did have their 3DSs, but they hardly played them. They were too busy playing with the other kids in camp. It was great for all of us!


For others, not so much.

Kieran: 100% unplugged vacation? Sounds very unrelaxing as a parent. Example: kids watching a movie = parents having a relaxed dinner. We have, however, traditionally had “screen-free week” toward the end of the summer to “reset.” But I would definitely prefer to do that at home and not on vacation.


Sometimes, other families’ habits are the real challenge.

Lisa: It can be so difficult during summer visits to suddenly have to deal with your kids’ being exposed to media in ways that are beyond your control. That part stresses me out, when we’re in homes that look like a Best Buy, where the TV is on around the clock. More disheartening is realizing how much of it’s out of your hands, when you’re someone’s guest, or when kids start having sleepovers. What helps me is to be deliberate when I can. I have to admit: I like turning off media in other people’s houses. I’m sure my hosts don’t love it, but hey—the 5-second surge of reclaiming your parental power is worth it!


And plenty of you are like, “What screens?”

Candace (of Naturally Educational): Honestly, we are so busy during the summer that there’s hardly any time. My kids are almost 7 and 5 (and 2, but he has zero screen time unless he wakes up in the middle of “Project Runway,” in which case a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do). I don’t know if it’s just because they’re still young, but we don’t really have any issues with screen time. They might watch a DVD (right now they’re into nature documentaries) while the baby naps, every couple days or so.

Hollie: My daughter loves being outside, so it is not that hard for us.

Victoria: I never had to limit my kids, because they all loved going outside and doing other activities. 

James:  It’s easy: you tell them go outside and play. They’ll use their mind and a little creativity with no phone. I have an 11-year-old, and she gets to play games when I feel it appropriate, and she does not have a phone, period.


THANK YOU to everyone who shared, and may you all enjoy a fabulous summer!


Photo used with permission of Wayne Silver


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