We recently made a decision in our family that I believe will pay dividends in the future. The trouble is that it may not be a popular decision, especially with the summer months upon us.
We decided to make screen time with our kids a privilege, not an expectation.
In other words, it became the exception rather than the rule. With kids out of school and more time on their hands throughout the summer, this may seem like a drastic measure.
However, earlier in the spring, we noticed that our son’s attitude and how he was speaking to other adults was cause for concern. After some conversation, we decided to be a little more intentional in how we were dealing with him. Being in a routine of watching a show immediately after school, we decided to nix the screens as a part of teaching respect. And wow, what a game-changer. I don’t think either of us realized what a difference just pulling the screen away would make.
I understand that with kids, the days of summer can feel very long. But what we’re learning is that the short-term benefit of a screen isn’t worth the long-term consequences, both in behavior and emotional well-being.
That’s why we’re focusing this summer as a family on redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). Think of making the most of the time this summer in the context of seeing how the short-term investments you make on a daily basis can lead to the long-term sanctification we desire in our kids.
We genuinely believe that if we can practice, become disciplined in, and work on the fundamentals, everything else (attitude, respect, the fruit of the Spirit, etc.) will fall into place.
With that said, here are a few practical guidelines we’d suggest to help you and your family make the most of the summer months ahead on a daily basis. Remember, these require intentionality and some short-term sacrifice. However, the reward is worth it.
1. Get creative with screen time.
Instead of merely setting limits, get creative with the time you have on screens. Set up family movie nights once a week where you all sit together and then discuss how the movie impacted you.
See who can take the best family photos this summer. Work as a family to turn vacations or family activities into a mini-movie using your phone.
If the screen is the exception for your kids, do the same for your own emotional well being too. We avoid our phones for the first hour of the day and the last hour before bed. We have no screens at any meal times. And my favorite one: Turning off your phone once a week on your Sabbath day as a family.
You’re likely resisting some of these suggestions already. Remember, our tendency is to try and justify our time on the screen, not off of it. Think of the long term benefits and the example you set for your kids by owning your phone, not allowing it to own you.
2. Allow your kids to play independently.
Teaching our children to play independently not only brings some freedom to our day, but it also fosters creativity and self-confidence in our kids. In fact, research shows that of the top ten parenting strategies to get the outcomes we desire most in our kids, autonomy and independence ranked fourth.
Our kids need to learn they have what it takes to do activities and chores on their own. Age appropriately, give your kids tasks to help you around the house. Try and give them tasks they find interest in doing. Create projects for them in things they love. For example, I recently sent my son to his room and told him not to come out until he built a house from LEGO. I had my daughter spend some time watering the garden and then painting a picture afterward of what the garden looked like that day.
3. Allow your children to be bored.
Research shows that boredom is linked to creativity. I think this why Silicon Valley executives and people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates protected their children from using screens. They understood that creativity and imagination are conceived from idle thought, not burying our heads into a screen.
When your kids complain of being bored this summer, ask them to go outside or to their rooms and create something. Have them present their invention or creation to the rest of the family after dinner.
4. Take your kids on adventures outside.
Most of my childhood memories were of playing at the creek, catching crayfish, dodging snakes, and swimming in what became known as the “12-foot hole.”
Last year, we decided to get a boat that we now use to get on the lake as often as we can throughout the summer. There are so many life lessons and memories our kids can learn by boating, going fishing, and even the resourcefulness that comes with camping (even if it’s under the stars and with the bugs in your backyard to get started).
5. Cross off a bucket list item with your spouse.
Seriously, the summer can be exhausting with kids, but the reality is that one of the best things you can do for them is to breathe life into your marriage. In fact, the third greatest parenting strategy in the study referenced above was “how you treat your spouse.”
Start making your daydreams come true with your spouse. Visit that bed and breakfast you’ve been talking about. Go to a baseball game together this summer. Invest in that anniversary trip you dream of. Whatever it is, enter into the heart of your spouse and find out what he/she is dreaming about.