There’s nothing wrong with some device time. Just use these tips to make sure your kids don’t overdo it.

It’s that time of year when kids have a long break from school and parents and guardians likely have some time off work.

What will we do with all that free time?

Parents may worry that extended free time means children and teens will automatically be glued to their devices all day—especially if they have to return to work before school is back in session.

When kids are on their own, can they be trusted to do something other than watch TV and movies, play video games, or engage in social media for hours on end?

The good news is that some screen time is fine. The moral panic blaming kids’ personal technology for all kinds of problems has likely been overblown.

An excellent new metastudy concludes, “screen media plays little role in mental health concerns.” In fact, moderate use of technology can have a small positive impact on mental well-being, according to a study by Dr. Andrew Przybylski.

But we certainly don’t want our children spending all of their precious time in the virtual world. We also want to establish healthy boundaries, like never allowing devices at family meals.

That’s why the school break presents an excellent opportunity to help kids learn to effectively manage their screen time. It also provides a great opportunity for parents to set an example for kids by not only making time for family but also doing activities without devices.

Here are some dos and don’ts for encouraging kids not to go overboard on screen time while on vacation.

Don’t Enforce. Engage!

Once, when I asked my teenager to wash the dishes after dinner, she replied, ​​“I was going to, Dad. But now that you’ve asked me to, I don’t want to anymore.”

My daughter had just demonstrated a classic example of psychological reactance—our knee-jerk negative reaction to being told what to do.

Moreover, psychological reactance isn’t only found in children. Adults aren’t fond of being told what to do either. It’s a mental reflex—sometimes a healthy one—that’s triggered whenever we feel our autonomy is threatened.

It’s safe to say that as a parent, forbidding your child to use their devices or imposing harsh restrictions is not an effective tactic. Doing so will only make your kids feel resentful and want to rebel — even if they know that too much screen time isn’t good for them.

Instead, parents and guardians need to find a way to play to kids’ need for autonomy, which is one of three “psychological nutrients” they often lack. Children need freedom over their choices to grow into confident, independent adults.

Giving them a say in how they manage their device use will make them more content with their own decisions and more likely to stick to the limits they set for themselves.

When kids are involved in setting their own limits, parents no longer have to be the bad cop who enforces arbitrary rules.

The more you make decisions with children, as opposed to for them, the more they may be willing to listen to your guidance.

Explain the Real Price of Too Much Screen Time

Used properly and for the right amount of time, personal technology can enhance kids’ lives.

At 13, my daughter is learning to play the ukulele by watching YouTube videos, she coordinates playdates with friends using WhatsApp, and she chats with her grandparents weekly over Facetime.

Instead of scaring kids by telling them tech is going to “addict” them and “melt their brains,” which they can see for themselves isn’t true, we should be honest with them about the price of too much device time.

The price of too much screen time is what kids could have been doing instead.

Playing a video game alone comes at the expense of not playing with friends in the real world. The cost of watching hours of TikTok videos is missing out on the opportunity to create something, instead of passively consuming content.

When my daughter was just five years old, she started to demand her iPad more often than I was comfortable with.

Since she had begun learning to tell time, my wife and I could explain that each day only held so many hours for things she enjoyed—the more time she spent using apps and watching videos, the less she had to play with friends at the park or hang out with her (very fun) parents.

By offering this explanation, we had begun to teach her what is arguably the most important skill for the 21st century: how to become Indistractable.

Being Indistractable means striving to spend one’s time in a way that best represents our values. It means being as honest with yourself as you are with others.

Once my daughter understood that screen time came at the expense of other fun activities, we could discuss how much time she wanted to spend on her device.

Plan the Screen Time in Advance

Even as a kindergartener, our daughter could see why it was best to decide in advance how much time she’d spend using her iPad versus doing other things she enjoyed.

We set a schedule for when she would allow herself to use her devices and when they’d be switched off.

When kids and parents plan screen time in advance, children don’t have to obsess about when they’ll finally be able to log on to a game to play with their friends or watch a video; they know the time is coming because it’s on a schedule.

Before the school break begins, agree upon a time budget for screen use with your children. Start by asking them what amount of screen time they want. You may be surprised by their answer.

My daughter suggested 45 minutes a day (outside of the screen time she needed for school work). She actually didn’t say “45 minutes,” she said “two episodes,” meaning two Netflix episodes, which I calculated to be 45 minutes. That was fine by me and much less time than I expected her to request.

Then, together, we discussed ways to help her adhere to this limit she set for herself.

In my daughter’s case, at only five years old, she learned to use the timer on the microwave to let her know when her 45 minutes were up.

Today, as a teenager, she uses the app timer on her phone or Apple’s Screen Time tool.

The important thing is that she’s learning to be in charge of her behavior and stick with her schedule on her own, a critical skill that will serve her for the rest of her life.

Arrange for Play in the Real World

Many parents think their kids want nothing but screen time all day. However, that’s often not the case.

After a few hours, many kids need something else to do. They get fidgety sitting still in front of a screen and eventually want to go outside for a change of scenery.

The trouble is that too often, parents don’t give kids the opportunity to do much else other than interact with their devices.

Remember, iPads are not iNannies! If we don’t give our kids ways to play in the real world, what choice do they have but to play online?

During the school break, kids have more free time than they may know what to do with. It’s important that parents give kids time for free play, the physical interactions and games kids invent when free from the direction of parents, teachers, or coaches.

Free play gives children the opportunity to connect and relate to peers.

The relatedness that free play facilitates is another of those three psychological nutrients that kids need to grow into empowered adults. It’s the main reason many people are so drawn to social media and online interactions in the first place.

Help kids arrange a time to meet up with friends in the real world instead of virtual worlds. Suggest fun, safe activities they could do with little or no parental supervision, and help them make those activities happen.

For example, find a family or two with children of similar age to yours who also value free play, and let the kids run wild, outside if possible. When given the chance and a few basic supplies, children will find a way to have fun as long as they have other children to play with.

Considering the impressive benefits of being in nature, you might plan an outdoor activity like hiking or skiing, or keep it simple and let them go for a long walk in the neighborhood, followed by hot chocolate and s’mores when they get back.

Arranging for play and fun away from screens gives kids options they’ll often find are much more enjoyable than another hour staring at a device.

With a little planning, forethought, and a level head, kids can enjoy their school breaks with the right amount of screen time—on their own terms.

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