The Paradox of Summer Screentime

Reading Time: 3 minutes
woman using laptop near swimming pool
Photo adapted from Good Free Photos

I’m writing this from the shade area at the side of the neighborhood pool because I have a laptop now and can do this. It’s about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, partly sunny, absolutely beautiful but too cold for swimming in my opinion. My kids, however, think it’s just fine, and I’m overjoyed for this opportunity for them to get their physical energy out in the fresh air— while I can still get my work done.

Summer vacation for my husband as a kid meant running around outside from dawn until dusk. Summer vacation for me meant large stacks of library books that rotated every week and my mom saying, “Go out and get some fresh air and exercise,” and me, in response, taking my book outside.

Summer vacation for our kids means fighting over who gets to use Mommy’s computer to play Roblox, until the loser either retreats to watch YouTube or hangs over the other one’s shoulder while they play.

We really need to limit screentime here. There’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with playing Roblox and watching YouTube. It just really isn’t healthy to spend all day doing it.

Just like it wasn’t that healthy to spend all day reading either (though at least I will say that I tended to read things that were a bit higher-quality storytelling than watching loud wannabe celebrities dare each other to eat gross things on camera).

And the problem is, of course, I need my electronics. I need to get my writing done, to contact the scout leaders, to find the phone numbers for the appointments that need to be made, to work on the finances, to look up plants in the garden and food for dinner and new places to take the kids to get them away from their electronics for awhile… and for my own fun too. But, obviously, I can’t depend on perfect days for not-swimming while-the-kids-swim nonstop. When I kick my kids off the computer just to spend all day on it myself, what message am I really sending?

So I guess what I’m saying is that enforcing limits on summer screentime tends to give me an awkward hypocritical complex.

I have always hated the theory that smartphones mean “people don’t talk to each other anymore.” The people who say this are extroverts, who wouldn’t have been lugging a book everywhere they went back before they could read on their phone. I have always been confused by the insistence that television and video games make for out of shape kids. “Well, I don’t watch much TV or play video games, so it must be perfectly healthy to read day in and day out,” kid-me thought. “Maybe turning pages gives me exercise.”

In other words, electronics are not the enemy. Lack of variety in one’s day is the enemy. Way back pre-electronics, bookworms like me spent their vacations reading and getting no exercise, and active kids like my husband spent their vacations running around and hitting a “summer slide” when school came back because they hadn’t done any reading over the summer. So the runners were told to read more, and the readers told to run more. It’s all about balance.

Screentime is just another activity to binge on, and I for one totally get the desire to binge. So we can’t take the electronics away. We just need to make sure the kids spend just as much time:

  • Getting fresh air and exercise. They may not be athletic types, but their moods still improve dramatically after a day in the open spaces.
  • Reading. They get reading in on the video games they play, at least—not so much with the YouTube they watch (though watching videos with captions is a good help). Personally, I think they’re missing so much great stuff by not spending all their time reading books, but I may be biased.
  • Socializing with kids not-each-other. At the playground, picnic, or day camp they can get away from each other instead of bickering nonstop.
  • And they need to spend time creating. They don’t need too much of a nudge for that. The girl still can’t come anywhere near a writing implement without drawing. And the boy recently discovered a new hobby: stop-motion LEGO movies. Of course, he needs electronics—specifically, my phone—to record them.

But much of the time, if I am to get them away from the electronics, I need to get off my own electronics. I need to take them out, to the pool or museum or grocery store. I need to go hiking and camping and visiting. I need to be the nudge to get them moving instead of settling into their favorite electronic routines, while I, too, just want to settle into my favorite electronic routines—or at least let them settle so that I can spend the time on my own non-electronic routines around the house.

And I really do need time to type my articles, thanks.

So, for now, we’ll just try to keep the delicate balance the best we can, no matter how difficult it can be to live up to.

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