A Facebook SOS went out this week from my friend Missy (mom of 4 tween/teens):

I need some help setting up guidelines and restrictions with screens during the summer with my 4 kids. (Screens=tv, computer, phone, video games, etc). Help! It’s especially an issue with all my boys. Any ideas welcome. (I am not super administrative–so I don’t want something that needs me to keep track of too much)!

Apparently, she’s not alone.

According to Common Sense Media, tweens log 4 1/2 hours of screen time a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. For teens, it’s even higher: nearly seven hours a day. And that doesn’t include time spent using devices for school or in school.

The response to Missy’s SOS was significant. Because, during the school year it’s one thing, but now its SUMMER!

When I was a kid, the only screen available was on a box t.v. that had yet to meet a remote control. Gaming consisted of Pong. And handheld-screen devices were few and far-between (remember Mattel’s Electronic Football?)

Today, options are almost limitless – as are threats of unwelcome guests and sites.

So what’s a family to do? – especially when striving to keep the peace.

Well, here are a few ideas spurred by Missy’s Facebook SOS (nice that we’re all in this together.) Top responses basically landed in 2 categories: Screen Control and Screen Alternatives

Screen Control:
Screen Free time.
Some families opt for screen-free days, mornings, afternoons, etc. The Smiths punt all-things screen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Stones put the kibosh on morning-screens. (Though with teens, afternoon might be a better option since the pillow wins most mornings.) The Macks only allow screens after completing listed tasks that range from teeth brushing to chores to creative projects and ends with asking a family member if there is anything they can do for them.

Lots of families operate off of an earned-screen time (doing chores, reading, etc. for equal time on screens), which works well but can be a challenge for the administratively-impaired (see also: homes with lots of kids.)

A cool new device called Disney Circle was widely cited as a huge help among responders to Missy’s call for help. Circle not only limits time on screens, it includes internet-site control – all based on each individual’s boundaries. And, settings can be applied on the go.

Personally, I haven’t tried Circle – but I hear it’s worth its weight in gold (when gold is peace with in a screen-filled home.)

Screen Alternatives:
Screens might seem like the end-all be-all to these tech-savvy kids, but battery/cord-free fun actually does exist.

Board Games. The oldies, but goodies (Monopoly, Sorry, Scrabble, UNO, etc) are still around for a reason. Not only are board games fun (operative word “game”), but they bring with them an opportunity to talk – not just at, but with.

Here are a few games we’ve played in the last week:

  • Splendor (recommended 10+, but fun for all ages especially if team-played with littles)
  • Mexican Train Dominos
  • Patchwork (don’t be fooled by the quilting cover-art, – it’s tons of 2-player fun)
  • Battleship card-game

Helpful hint: for almost any game you can find a YouTube video to navigate the directions.

Bored Jar -a Pinterest fav consisting of a mason-type jar filled with activity-labeled popsicle sticks. We’ve found that limiting activity options to chores makes that jar as exciting as a case of swine flu. So, throw in sticks labeled ice-cream run, game of your choice, or whatever is fun to the kids. One of our kids labeled a stick swim with Brock – which has already been drawn and done. The Bored Jar is like Truth or Dare – if you play, you have to follow through. It’s a go-to spot where a bored kid can whisk away tedium.

Puzzles Sure everyone groans, but only a strong few can resist magnetic pull of an entertaining puzzle. On our kitchen table? Mario & Luigi. After some time on the Wii, they can continue the fun with a 500-piece Mario Kart puzzle. And like the board games, with a puzzle comes a good opportunity for spontaneous, real conversation – and maybe a few fun (or agonizing) memories.

Then one of the best screen-saver options:
Summer Serving Opportunities to serve are almost endless and can be done at any age. Another friend, Courtney DeFeo of Lil Light O’Mine has put together a booklet of ideas (many of which came from kids themselves) for all ages. Ideas range from simple acts (like writing notes to put in an elderly neighbor’s mailbox) to serving at a shelter or to reading at youth center.

See more on serving and ideas here at a 30-minute vodcast (video podcast for those like me who are behind the techno-times.) More on the SaySomething project that is a response to a request/offer later – but for now, hope you enjoy. You can watch or listen:

Opportunities to get eyes off screens (and even off ourselves via serving) abound. The great thing about summer, unscheduled time does too. Who knows, maybe creative encouragement to pull away from the screens might be the best teacher of all that screen-related enticements, though popular, might not be as fun as time with the real people walking alongside (even when the real involves some sibling fighting – and making up.)

Please share what works in your home. And, as always, thanks for walking the road with me.


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