Woo-hoo! Summer vacation is just around the corner. Get out the flip-flops, pull up the lawn chair, sit back with ice-cold lemonade, and relax while your kids are busy with screen-free activities. At least that’s how the first 30-minutes might play out. Until . . . wait for it . . . “M-o-o-o-o-m, I’m bored.

Screen-free activities

Ah, the age-old problem: Adults never have enough time to relax, and kids always seem to have too much! It’s tempting to rely on digital devices as boredom pacifiers, yet deep down we know that’s not a healthy long-term solution. This pattern can actually lead to compulsive behaviors —a trap we really want to help our kids avoid!

Furthermore, we know the threat of contact from online predators and exposure to pornography increases with the amount of time kids spend online. So, what’s the solution to keeping kids busy, safe, and happy all summer long?

Planning now for a fun, safe summer of screen-free activities

We aren’t suggesting a summer ban on phones, tablets or video games. On the contrary, we encourage deciding now how to enjoy tech fun with a healthy balance of face-to-face social interaction.

Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids to understand how the feeling part of the brain acts on instinct and reward – and how to help it make healthy choices.

Today we’ve got eight tips to help you and your kids have a fabulous, relaxing summer without becoming screen junkies. Each of our solutions encourages more social interaction! And whether your child is 3 or 13, face-to-face playtime works overtime to entertain kids, encourage healthy development, and decrease the risk of exposure to pornography and online predators.

Stick with us—we’ll get you that lemonade yet!

8 Simple tips to encourage choosing people over screens

1. Organized playgroups

A few years back a small group of moms in our neighborhood organized a day camp among their families. What a fantastic way to encourage younger school-age kids to socialize away from screens!

Once a week they would host each other’s kids. This gave the other moms in the group time to run errands, put in a few hours at work, or whatever they wanted to get done. The host provided kids with a few screen-free activities (games, crafts, etc.), a healthy snack, and a few hours of supervised play. The next day, the kids would have fun at another home.

2. Park days

If the thought of organizing activities for the “entire” neighborhood is not your idea of fun, then Park Days might be more your speed. To get started, you just need a group of interested parents and a list of favorite parks in your community. Moms at our church have been doing this each summer for more than a decade with great success!

At the beginning of the summer plan a schedule (usually once a week) of where to meet. Get the word out to families in your group. All you have to do is show up at the park, picnic in hand, and play together. The kids get fresh air and exercise while building friendships and the parents get to chat up a storm. It’s super casual and works whether it’s two families showing up or ten.

3. Community events

With a little detective work you can find a lot of free or low cost events in your neighborhood. Check out library programs, museums and art galleries to see what they have to offer. Some churches and even businesses offer summer day camps. You’ll want to book early, as these tend to fill up fast!

Many of my friends have taken advantage of these short-term programs. Their kids spend the day singing songs, playing games and other screen-free activities. By week’s end they’ve made a whole bunch of new friends.

4. Connecting generations

Grandparents have so much to offer (more than just free babysitting!).

What are grandma and grandpa’s favorite hobbies or special talents? Tap in to them. Plan time this summer for your children to work on special projects with their grandparents. They will come home with more than a new skill — they will have made memories and discovered they have the coolest grandparents ever!

Opportunities for grandparents to pass along their own heritage are endless! It could be gardening, woodworking, baking, quilting, or painting. Or maybe a sporting event, a trip to the driving range, or attending an outdoor play is more their style. One fabulous grandma I know insists that all phones and devices are off anytime grandkids are in the car with her. For them, this is quality time to spend together.

5. E-free days

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find tech still starts to take over our lives. It’s pretty normal! We live in a digital world. When my friend Kim notices things are getting out of hand, she announces to her kids that they’ve got an e-free day coming up. This is when they shut down everything (mom and dad included) and go completely analog for an entire day.

It’s kind of radical, but Kim has found that this defined break from technology is what her family needs to reset and reconnect with one another. They’ve been doing it for several years. Her kids are now age 13 and 15. Their e-free days are for books, board games, family outings or anything that doesn’t involve a screen. When I asked her how the kids respond she explained:

“Our daughter says she feels more relaxed and more creative during an e-free day. Our son, (who manages high-functioning autism), says that he feels like his brain gets a rest. I can hardly think of a better gift for him than a day when he feels that his brain can slow down just a little bit.”

Kim recommends anyone thinking of going e-free to start small — a few hours at first. Get the kids involved in planning screen-free activities so they feel part of the special day!

6. Tech basket

Now that you’ve got a summer routine you’re happy with, what happens when you open your door to kids in neighborhood? Are they coming in loaded with tech devices? After hello, is the next sentence, what’s the WiFi password? Not only do you need to keep an eye out on your kid’s device, but on everyone else’s too!

This is a great opportunity to talk with other parents. Find out if they have rules or expectations about how their kids use technology at your house. Chances are they will be thrilled to discover they’ve got an ally! Next, make sure both your kids and their friends understand the house rules about devices.

Don’t be afraid to ask kids to put their devices away and enjoy some screen-free activities together. You could even invite kids to deposit them in a designated tech basket until it’s time for them to go home or they need them for a specific multiplayer game (see below).

7. Time limits for social apps

When kids become tweens, schedules tend to naturally loosen up. Friends become a significant influence, there’s less routine for bedtimes and sleeping in may even become the norm. Many parents find they get a little more free time in this stage of life.

A more relaxed routine doesn’t have to mean a lack of guidelines to follow. At Protect Young Minds we recommend you establish an early bedtime for devices that connect to the internet. That way when kids are up late there’s no risk of getting inappropriate text messages, and it helps tweens get the rest they need. Bedtime should definitely be a screen-free activity!

It helps to involve kids in this type of planning. Ask them what they think is a healthy amount of screen time and how they plan to carry out safe online practices. You could even reread Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids together!

Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures…I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents! –Amazon Review, March 14, 2014. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

My kids love to play video games. During the school year they are so involved with extracurricular activities that game time is limited (plus, no video games on school nights). Our carefree summer schedule means they can really get into their favorite games. If my husband and I didn’t set limits they would easily play for hours on end. It’s not just them – video games are addictive by design!

Instead, we have set (but flexible) times each day designated as gaming time. We keep it social by encouraging multiplayer games and inviting friends over for specific gaming parties.

Establishing a healthy gaming routine takes time and intention. When our kids were young, we suffered more than a few tantrums over lost levels and “time to turn it off”. But we always held our ground. We constantly reinforce the idea that gaming is not to become an obsession. It’s for fun and entertainment only! We’re also very selective about the type of games we allow in our home.

Keep a go-to list of family favorite real-life games such as board games, puzzles and outdoor games. These are just a few options that will help kids transition away from the screen when video game time is over!

How to plan your summer together

Hopefully these ideas have you thinking about more fun ways to reinforce the importance of people over screens with your family. To make this summer a social success, involve kids as much as possible in choosing their activities.

  • When you are planning any of these activities, ask kids for ideas to make it better! What parks would they like to go to? What would be fun to do with grandparents? What activities would they like to do on an e-free day?
  • Give kids an assignment to help them feel invested in making the activity a success! They could pack a special snack to share with grandparents, hand-deliver invitations to friends for a park day, or decorate the tech basket.
  • Set aside a specific time to review safe internet practices. The more kids have a voice in this conversation, the better! For example, ask them how much daily access to the internet they think is healthy (their answers may surprise you)!
  • Do your kids know how to recognize and reject pornography? Before they go online this summer review the CAN DO Plan.
  • Ask kids what makes summertime special. They might like to come up with a bucket list — 100 low or no-cost ideas to do in one summer. Stick it to the fridge like this cute list. When boredom strikes, refer to the list!
  • Keep it positive! Focus on all the fun things you can do together and allow screen-time to naturally fade into the background. Keep things fresh — lean on friends and extended family when your own creative juices expire.

When kids socialize their imaginations blossom. Through real interaction, they learn to empathize, negotiate and compromise (important life skills that aren’t found in their typical online interactions.) While more face-to-face social experiences and screen-free activities won’t guarantee safety from dangerous content online, the more kids learn to nurture real-time relationships, the more likely they are to recognize and reject pornography as a counterfeit to human connection.

Start planning screen-free activities now – and watch your kids choose people over screens all summer long!

Do you have some good summer activity ideas to share? Join our community in the Protect Young Minds – Parent Discussion Group.

FREE Bonus: Get 23 FUN Questions to Ask Your Family!

Keep the conversations going! Use these 23 questions around the dinner table or on your next road trip to inspire great family discussions. (These questions even work well as icebreakers at parties or youth activities!). Want to turn any everyday moment into a fabulous memory? Click on the image below and get these questions today!

Marilyn Evans
Marilyn Evans lives east of Toronto with her husband and five sons. Concerned with the ease of access to online pornography, she began searching for ways to address this subject with her own children. Frustrated with the lack of resources and information available to parents at the time she began speaking out about the harms of porn anyone who would listen. After a concerted but somewhat futile effort to gain the attention of her school board Marilyn felt her voice would be better served in the blogosphere. Over the past two years she has written regular articles for Parents Aware, as well as guest posting for Strength to Fight, and recently published an opinion article in Education Canada. She is thrilled to add her voice to the community at Protect Young Minds.
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