Slimming Summer Screen Time for Our Families

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Recently–and perhaps this is ironic–I caught a moment of pure genius on Facebook. My friend Rahnell posted this photo, sharing her son Wesley’s “summer daily list”:

Mom Rahnell has a daily plan to help her elementary school aged son to prioritize his daily responsibilities this summer. Photo copyright Rahnell Perez-Linden 2017, used with permission.

Rahnell’s photo took me back to the days when my sons were younger and the lure of summer led us to moments of less scheduled activity and more opportunity for creative learning and recreation. I have to admit that those were less complicated days. Back then “technology” meant Gameboy, Nintendo and chunky video tapes… and yes, even old-fashioned television shows on the VCR. Our goal was always to fill the boys’ days with fun, but also to sneak in plenty of elective reading and outside recreation. With our school years so packed with homework, activity and just general busyness, I decided early in my sons’ elementary school career that summer was a time to plan less and leave more room for spontaneity.

Technology has obviously evolved over the past years, but every parent’s challenge to deal with the “Mom, I’m bored!” moments of summer means that we must plan proactively to avoid having our kids simply spend the next three months tuned in to a variety of enticing screens. And yes, I understand that an iPad can be used for reading and youtube can be a powerful place to learn new concepts… but they can also be places where we miss opportunities to interact with God, with one another, with nature, or simply to go out back and goof around with stuff like dirt and sticks and water.

We recently shared Rahnell’s photo at our CatholicMom.com Facebook page and discovered that lots of moms had great ideas on managing family screen time. Like Rahnell, many of our moms shared on social media that they offer “screen time” as a perk for completed chores, finished summer learning assignments and only on particular days of the week. Mom Lucia suggested her family’s habit of “Do a kind deed” or “20 minutes of prayer” as additions to the activities offered to her children.

Along with a general cutback on gaming and general “surfing” (that doesn’t involve the beach), we did find a few cool Catholic technology venues to help your family plan more purposeful technology. Some of our favorite finds are:

  • Formed.org – Chock full of on-demand videos, movies, audiobooks and more… and all Catholic, to help you learn the faith!
  • Kid Catholic – You won’t be able to resist this pint-sized apologist as he vlogs the faith on youtube with style and personality.
  • ChurchPop Games and Quizzes – Play “Friar Dude” or Passiontide or test your knowledge of Catholic history and trivia

One thing to always remember when we’re setting limits and trying to establish new routines and habits for our children is that we parents often teach our kids more with our actions than we do with our words. Mom Rebecca shared on Facebook that she would be using Rahnell’s list to limit her own elective use of technology… it’s not just the kids who struggle with limiting screen time!

A few quick pointers for our families to make “less screen time” a reality this summer include:

  1. Pray together about your family’s goals for the summer. As Servant of God Patrick Peyton C.S.C. said, “The family that prays together stays together.”
  2. Hold a “screen free summit”. Before you simply say, “No more screens!”, pull the kids into a family meeting and come up with a workable plan that compromises and is something your family can strive to accomplish together.
  3. Plan rewards. Think ahead about a special “family movie night” (don’t forget favorite treats) or chances to earn a new game or program for good summer behavior or accomplishing learning objectives.

We want to hear from you! How do YOU manage screen time in YOUR home during summer vacation? We would also love to hear your favorite Catholic or family-friendly “screen tips” for things you DO let your kids enjoy: games, movies, etc when they have earned some screen time. Give us your thoughts, plans and frustrations or concerns in the combox below. 

Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey

Image copyright Rahnell Perez-Linden, used with permission.

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

6 Comments

  1. I have a 15-year-old who is way too into his phone and his computer games. 4 hours a week of soccer practice until August isn’t going to make a dent in all that free time that he’s more than happy to fill staring at a screen. I’d love to have a discussion about this with other parents of teenagers!

    • This is tougher because the “I’ll do whatever (or most of what) Mom says” factor is seriously diluted. That’s where this mean mom would have used the lock down features on screens (most cell phone companies have them – for ATT in our day it was called “Smart Limits”) to control what’s available when. Some stuff our teens worked on during summer: summer reading (which was always mandated by their school, pretty serious novels), college research (Yes, even when they weren’t Juniors), a journal, music practice, exercise (for us it was often a walk with mom, lame right?) and believe it or not cooking (because I can’t, they learned how).

      • I think, since he’s 15 and he needs to learn to manage his own time, that I’m going to talk with him about what his game/social media limits are and then have him look at how he plans to spend his time this summer. There’s already a daily chore list in place, and he has a fitness requirement for soccer to work toward, plus possible summer theatre commitments. He’s going to need to find a way to fulfill his academic and athletic requirements. So he will have parameters and he’ll need to work within those. I’m also going to see if he wants to brainstorm any day-trip possibilities.

  2. Nothing fancy here. Some structure is important for us, but not too much. In mid-morning, I have “coffee talk” with my three oldest (14, 13, and 11). That’s coffee and catechesis for about 30-45 minutes. Other than that, the kids have free reign with technology only on rainy days, but on nice days, they are expected to be outside using their imaginations to find fun things to do. If it’s really hot, I let them come in to cool down and watch a quick show or something similar. Give and take works well for us, and though the kids try to push the envelope, they mostly do a pretty good job balancing their use of technology.

  3. Thank you for the article, Lisa, as we swing into summer. This is easier to manage a list type thing like the picture above when the kids are middle school age and lower. I have a checklist like this for my school kids. We also spend the majority of our day at our neighborhood pool. But once they hit high school, I think a list like that will seem childish to them. It’s better to start equipping them to make their own tech choices. We seem to have this continuing conversation with our high school children about using their time wisely. I think my kids get it. They all play instruments–so this is a bonus. They spend hours practicing and writing music. They also like to read. And when my kids turn 15–they need some kind of employment. But before you picture my teens as ideal—they are not. It takes good old-fashioned parenting on a daily basis. “Haven’t you been playing Overwatch for about an hour now?” “Isn’t that your second episode of The Office?” and my daily mantra, said in a very kind and loving way, “Let’s find a better way to use your time.”

    • Tami–I like that “Let’s find a better way to use your time.”
      I need to have this conversation with my 15-year-old (school ends tomorrow for him). I do intend to have him make a list of things he’d like to do this summer, and I’m already involving him more in dinner prep now that the “Guy’s Grocery Games” TV show has sparked an interest in cooking. He actually found a recipe on his own that he wants to try, a VEGETABLE recipe no less, so he’ll be making that dish on Sunday to go with Father’s Day dinner.

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