While this summer may look different than you and your family imagined, it can still be a happy, healthy time for growth and positive development. Below, the team of experts behind Children and Screens lay out 9 key ways to manage summertime with your children and tweens on- and off-screens.
Find A Balance
“Kids thrive in environments that help regulate their sensory systems—sight, sound, touch, hearing, taste, smell, vestibular, and proprioceptive, among others—because it makes them feel calm and ready to learn. Understand that kids may be using media devices to help regulate sensation when ordinary supports like playgrounds and resource rooms are unavailable. Instead of viewing media use as inherently problematic, work with your child to explore other environments, inside and out, that support their sensory regulation so that media use is just one of many options available to them.”
–Kristen Harrison, Professor of Communication and Media, University of Michigan.
Have Kids Pitch In
“Parents need help around the house, and children need variety, so take this summer as an opportunity to show your kids how to pitch in. Cooking, cleaning the car, watering the plants—these all give your child a sense of purpose and new skills they’ll need as they grow up. Plus, it provides a welcome hand for overburdened parents and guardians!”
–Susan Tapert, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Director, Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, UC San Diego.
Keep In Touch
“As your child progresses from early to middle childhood, peer interactions become even more important. Peer relationships help children develop important skills like cooperation, conflict resolution, emotional management, perspective taking, creativity, and identity presentation. Even if your family is social distancing, encourage your child to engage with other kids. This can be through video chat (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime, Skype), online games (e.g., Minecraft, Roblox), walkie-talkies, or even talking across fences or through windows. Children need social interactions, and peers are important social partners. Even if parks and camps are limited or closed, social interactions should still be encouraged, and the thoughtful use of technology can help facilitate them.”
–Stephanie M. Reich, Associate Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine.
“Strangely enough, stay-at-home orders seem to have reminded people how important it is to get outdoors. Being outside is generally regarded as safe, so long as basic public health guidelines are still observed. Playing in nature promotes curiosity, initiative, and creativity, and it’s a great way to take a break from the screen. The Children in Nature Network (CINN) provides resources for parents and guardians who want to promote exploration and unstructured play in backyards, parks, and other wild spaces during the pandemic. With many local and state parks starting to open back up, families can take advantage of this opportunity to instill a lifelong interest in nature.”
–Jayson Seaman, Associate Professor of Outdoor Leadership and Management, University of New Hampshire.
“It is important to remember that learning happens through interaction with our environment. We learn through what we do. Letting children come up with ideas important to them, avoiding prescribed activities, taking time, and being patient provides space for creativity to emerge. Whatever the activity—whether a walk in the woods, drawing a picture, experimenting with a recipe or what might seem like just fooling around—letting kids (particularly young ones) explore in unstructured ways helps them understand their world and cultivate deeper interest.”
–Stephen Uzzo, Chief Scientist, New York Hall of Science and Adjunct Professor, Teaching and Learning, New York Institute of Technology Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Expect An Adjustment Period
“Your child has been using screens to fend off boredom, but that’s not all. Screens are an easy way to distract ourselves from all those uncomfortable feelings during a pandemic: Disappointment. Sadness. Anxiety. Fear. Annoyance. Anger. So, be sure to build in antidotes, like daily roughhousing, to help kids work through emotions. And you can expect a certain amount of volatility from your child as they begin spending less time with screens, so ratchet up your patience level. But after this transitional time period, you’ll see your child becoming less irritable and aggressive. You’ll notice more initiative, self-discipline, and focus when they play. And best of all, you’ll see your child developing their inner life and discovering who they are by playing, learning, and engaging with the world, instead of losing themselves to a screen.”
–Laura Markham, Editor of Aha! Parenting & Author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent and Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.
Use Your Tools
“Families can find a great tool to help them have a screen-use discussion with their kids by checking out the interactive Family Media Use Plan at HealthyChildren.org. Not sure how much time your kids really have? Would it help to have some visuals? It’s all there!”
–David L Hill, Hospital Pediatrician at Goldsboro Pediatrics, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UNC School of Medicine, and the author of the new book Co-Parenting Through Separation and Divorce.
Detox From Screens
“Consider setting aside a full day (perhaps Saturday or Sunday) as screen-free time. If you can’t commit to a day, at least try a designated evening. This regular break allows children to do a ‘screen detox’ and creates a void to be filled with other activities. Not a bad routine for the whole family to do together.”
–Daniel G. Shapiro, M.D., Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
Family Fun With Media
“When you do watch media, make it a family affair. We know from research that when children and caregivers watch screens together, children are more likely to learn from what they are viewing. So, bring out the popcorn and have a special movie night, or designate some time during the day when you can sit down and watch educational media together to help make it a positive experience for kids. Children are more likely to learn from what they are viewing if you direct them to specific content (“Elmo is red”) and make it relatable (“that car is blue, we have a blue car too!”). For older children, you can get them talking or thinking about what’s on the screen by asking engaging, open-ended questions (“The dragon seems upset, why do you think that is?”). When family screen time is over, try to engage children in offline activities that get them playing or moving, to help keep their brains and bodies healthy.”
–Sheri Madigan, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, Associate Professor, University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
“Just as resources have been recently prioritized to the transition from work to home,” says Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, President and Founder of Children and Screens, “for the foreseeable future, parents need to explore new avenues and adapt their child-rearing techniques to best serve their children’s needs in an uncertain and challenging milieu. It is a lot of ask, especially with fewer outside resources, less time, near constant change, circumscribed opportunities and, on top of it, the constant allure of screen time for everyone, but the payoff is worth the extra effort.”
Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501C(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra. It advances and supports interdisciplinary scientific research, enhances human capital in the field, informs and educates the public, and advocates for sound public policy for child health and wellness.
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