Managing summer screen time

Set the limits on digital usage — then enforce the limits. Photo: monkeybusinessimages

Do you ever have that thought in June, whew, we made it through another school year? Summer is finally here, which means fewer scheduled activities and a break from the hectic pace of the school year. But with all that downtime comes a major challenge for parents — managing our children’s screen time. If your children are like mine, one minute of downtime or free time and their first instinct is to reach for a device.

There are a lot of differing opinions when it comes to how much time children should spend in front of a screen, but the more time you spend talking about it as a family and coming to some agreements, the better for everyone. This might be the easy part; sticking to those agreements might be more challenging. As with most parenting experiences, setting limits and outlining consequences is imperative to avoid constant negotiations and whining. Here are some tips to help your family navigate this tricky territory to ensure everyone has a happy and fun summer:


Children need limits even during the summer, so work together as a family to come up with the guidelines together. Having your children engaged in the process gives them some power, and makes it more likely they will stick to the plan. Ask them how much time they think should be allowed and negotiate from there. In our house, we made a list of the things our children need to do before screen time is allowed. Each child helps make his or her own chart of “No screen time until …” (There is a great free printable available at Our lists are different according to age but everyone has to have done some reading, had some physical exercise, cleaned their rooms, and helped with a chore around the house before any screen time is allowed.

After setting limits comes the hard part — enforcing those limits. After everyone has agreed on the guidelines, take time to discuss the consequences if the guidelines are not followed. This may involve losing screen time for a day or an extended time. Another helpful tool in enforcement is the timer. My children are not going to turn off their devices on their own, so I set a timer and let the timer be the bad guy. This helps alleviate a lot of the negotiating for “just one more minute” or arguing about time.


Sometimes it is hardest for us parents to adhere to our own guidelines. However, if we are expecting our children not to bring devices to the dinner table or to look up from a screen if someone is talking to them, we need to do the same. Our children are always watching and learning from us. Another way to set an example is to model how to enjoy downtime without a screen. Let them see you reading a book or solving a crossword or Sudoku puzzle from the newspaper. Or grab a deck of cards or a board game and ask them to play. Last, model for them the balance between getting outside for physical activity with sitting in front of a screen. You may find they become so engrossed in one of these activities they forget to ask about their screen time.

Some other important ways we can be good media mentors to our kids is by not sleeping with our phones next to our bed or jumping at every text or email message we receive. For older children, it may become important to ask them before you post a family picture or vacation photograph on social media. A lot of this technology is new to them and to us, so they are looking to us for guidance and boundaries — even if they don’t think they need them.


It would be naïve to think I can keep my kids away from a screen all summer. So instead of looking at screen time as a negative, I like to look at it as an opportunity for family bonding and a great way to engage with your children. Find out what they are doing online or learn to play the games they like. I didn’t grow up playing many video games, but my husband did, and it is fun to watch him and our children try to teach me the latest game. We have had some great family game nights playing Madden or NBA2K.

Technology is changing rapidly, and in most cases our kids know more about social media, online gaming, and YouTube than we do; however, as parents, I feel it is crucial to stay ahead of the game and give them the tools. We can start by trying our best to give them a fun and relaxing summer while working hard to maintain a balance, set boundaries, and stick to them when it comes to their screen time.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco.