Summer rules for screen time – unplug and explore!
July 07, 2022
By Carey Ann Dodah
Do you have summer rules for screen time? I used to have all sorts of rules around screens and devices that seem to have gone out the window since the pandemic arrived! I am keen to get things back into a healthier balance this summer. I thought I’d share my research into the best ways to achieve it.
Why should we limit children’s screen time?
Studies have shown that extended exposure to screens can have a negative impact on a child’s physical and mental health.
For a healthy, happy life we need to look after:
- Our bodies
- Our minds
- The people around us
Spending too much time in a ‘screen bubble’ can cause these three vital areas to be neglected.
The effects of too much screen time
Spending many hours in front of a screen means children are:
- Less active – not moving around as much can affect a child’s physical development and strength of bones and muscles. This may also affect a child’s weight.
- Spend less time outside – we all need a daily dose of sunlight to support our vitamin D intake. Additionally, outside light benefits our eyes and spending time in nature is vital for mental wellbeing.
- Prone to disrupted sleep – the constant stimulation of screens can disrupt sleep patterns especially if used close to bedtime. Sleep deprivation leads to mood swings and more frequent illnesses as the immune system is not operating at its best.
- Straining their eyes – eye strain and associated headaches are common side-effects of spending too much time in front of a screen.
- Experiencing neck and shoulder pain – watching a screen in a hunched over or static position for long periods of time will result in changes to posture which can cause many difficulties as children get older.
How does screen time affect children’s social skills?
Whilst screen time can be harmful it does have its benefits. If used to interact with friends and family this can boost your child’s social skills. However in younger children, there are strong links between delayed communication skills and the amount of screen time they are exposed to. This is because toddlers learn from their parents’ reactions, not just from watching something. They need to see how their caregiver responds to situations to help develop emotional intelligence.
How does screen time affect children’s eyesight?
Evidence suggests that screen time can lead to eyes becoming fatigued, they may feel dry and sore (since we blink less while using screens) and eye muscles can be strained if sitting too close which can contribute to short sightedness.
Screen time and children’s mental health
Not all screen time is the same. A child’s mood and mental health is normally affected by the content they are watching. For example, they may feel anxious watching false news stories that have been dramatised for effect. They may experience depression over body image when comparing themselves to highly edited photos of others or lives that others seem to be leading that don’t reflect reality. Spending many hours away from other people can cause children to feel isolated and disconnected from the people that love them.
Recommended screen time for children
Official recommendations for screen time are low:
- Under 2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
- 2-5 years old: No more than one hour per day co-viewing with a parent or sibling
- 5-17 years old: Generally no more than two hours per day, except for homework
The reality of what most children actually spend is much higher:
By the time a child is between 8 and 10 years old they are often spending 6 hours a day in front of a screen (not including homework)!
The average screen time for teens
Teenagers from the age of 11 upwards spend on average 9 hours a day on a screen.
How much screen time do teens need in summer?
Teens might need screen time for studying, chatting with friends and some downtime to play games but they certainly don’t need 9 hours a day. Reducing it however can be a challenge.
How to reduce children’s screen time over the summer holidays
Introducing some rules around screen time for the summer holidays will help reduce the time your kids spend on their devices. After all, we all want to make the most of the holidays and enjoy some precious family time together. We’ve come up with a list of ideas, including some free printable ‘screen-free’ activity cards to help you get the perfect balance this summer.
Summer screen time rules
No screen time until…
This is one of my personal favourites. Try these printable ‘Three before screen’ cards. The idea is that your child has to do three different activities each day before they have any screen time. They do something for their body, their mind and for the people around them, starting the day in a healthy, balanced way.
Screen time routine
Children like routine, but they can also get upset if that routine changes. When creating a screen time routine think about what will work for you all on most days. For example, are they allowed to have screen time after lunch each day or before bath time. Tying it to another activity that happens everyday is helpful. It’s best to avoid bedtime though as this stimulation can make falling asleep more difficult.
Limit use to a certain time of day
Agree on a time that screens are allowed each day. Have screen free time for all the family so that you are leading by example during those times.
Apps to limit children’s screen time
There are a number of different apps that allow you to block access or limit the amount of hours your child can spend on screen. However as your children get older putting these kinds of limits on devices can result in a lot of tension. I like the positive approach of apps like Flora – Green Focus that encourages you to stay off your phone by growing trees (or killing trees if you spend too much time on it – eek!) Great for adults too!
Controls / passcodes on devices
For younger children it’s a good idea to have a passcode on a device so that you are in control of when they are logged in.
Keep devices out of sight
Having a safe place for your devices so they are not always available is a good idea for younger children. Also be aware of how often you are using your phone or tablet in front of them. Children look to their parents to learn how to interact with the world – their play will often mimic their parents behaviour so if you want them to spend time outdoors, reading, being creative then you need to demonstrate that to them.
Collect devices each evening
It’s good practice to remove digital devices from your children’s bedrooms at night. They might interrupt their sleep patterns and they also emit a small amount of radiation. If you don’t need to have it near you then best to have it in another room.
Screen free meal times are a lovely way of having family time. It gives everyone time to discuss their day and connect with each other.
Plan screen-free activities
Screens offer such an easy form of entertainment that it’s not surprising that we fall back on them. Having some screen-free activities planned helps. Check out our summer resources for some ideas to get you started.
Being outside has so many benefits to our health. Fresh air, exercise and giving your eyes a much needed rest from looking at something close up. Find daily opportunities to get out and about. A walk with friends, a trip to the beach or playing in the local park are all things you often don’t have time to do during the school term, so it’s a perfect time to plan them in.
Rules for the whole family
Why not set yourself a challenge? If you want to limit your children’s screen time to 2 hours a day can you do the same? Or if you set certain times of the day for the kids to be on their screen try to avoid being on your screen the rest of the day too.
Be intentional with your own screen time
I’ve recently turned off notifications for all of my social media apps and emails. That way I am in control of when I check things on my phone. Using the focus setting can also be really helpful, putting it on silent and keeping it in another room when you want to spend time on an activity with your children. This is another way you can lead by example.
For more parenting advice and family-friendly resources visit us at Explore Learning. We’re here for you every step of your parenting journey because you’re not in it for the short term and neither are we.
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