Keeping summer screen time to a minimum

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Summer break is here, and many of us are looking forward to having a little more free time. Youth will have more time to breathe and explore their interests beyond school, but so often downtime becomes screen time. Summer’s wide open time spans can heighten battles over technology use.

Here are some ideas for managing screen time this summer:

• Take a moment to ask your kids if they have anything they want to do, people they want to see, projects they want to take on, or finish during summer time? See if you can get them to say one or two specific things. You can call them “goals” but sometimes this word can shut down teens since the word “goals” can conjure up work.

• The more you can have systems in place to have tech go off at defined times, the better. It is not fun to police screen time. Apple’s new Family Sharing screening time controls isn’t scheduled for a full release until September. Late last week I also did a little analysis for the Washington Post of Apple’s versus Android’s family screen time controls. I’m really looking forward to seeing how these controls will help change the culture around screen time. For those of you battling the Fortnite obsession, don’t forget that if your child plays it on XBOX, the console does have a way to set screen time limits. Here is a link to some third party apps to help manage time screen time:

• Now is a good time to get more creative about possible “house help” projects for the summer (aka “chores” but I prefer “house help”) by thinking up new tasks that will give your children new skills. I am excited that my teens have agreed to help me paint my home office. They’ve never painted a room and I think it’s a good skill to have. Other house help ideas I have for this summer are fixing the broken wood garage door, having them do more cooking, and of course the usual (weekly sweeping and bathrooms).

• Given that it is completely normal for kids and teens to be frustrated and angry to have to do house help, consider bringing up the following when you are having a calm dinner. Julie Lythcott Smith, former Stanford University Dean of Freshmen, said in her TED Talk about raising adults:

“The longest longitudinal study of humans ever conducted is called the Harvard Grant Study. It found that professional success in life, which is what we want for

our kids, that professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid, and the earlier you started, the better, that a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there’s some unpleasant work, someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me...I will contribute my effort to the betterment of the whole, that that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace.”

• Summer is a great time to encourage creative projects using technology. Did you know that on average kids only spend 3 percent of their screen time doing “content creation” such as making videos or composing music on the computer? You might suggest that your video gamer consider learning how to design and code their own video game. Or, how about for your kids that love to listen to music, see if they will try to write their own songs on Garageband? Your YouTube watching tweens and teens might enjoy shooting their own movies right on their phone cameras and then learning how to edit them on the computer in iMovie or another program. I use Premier and my daughter Tessa learned it super fast.

• Reading—sure enough, reading has gone way down over the past few years but it does not have to be that way. I find that having a few new titles in the home (via borrowing from the library or friends or ordering) increases the chance my teens get interested in reading them.

Here are a few questions to get the conversation with your teen going:

What are two things you would like to accomplish this summer?

Is there a new skill, like video editing or creating music or coding that you might be interested in learning more about?

How much time do you think is reasonable per day this summer for you to spend doing things like playing video games or scrolling social media?

What “house help” projects can you come up with that would teach you a skill you are interested in—or at least mildly interested in? Or at least not completely dreading?


Delaney Ruston is a primary care physician and the documentary filmmaker behind “Screenagers,” a film that offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance in life.

This is from her blog “Tech Talk Tuesdays” published on

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