Thomas: Tell your kids to put down the screens and head outside this summer
“I’m bored.” These are all-too-familiar words said to parents during the summertime. Kids long for summer days while they are in school, but can oftentimes discover “boredom” within days of summer vacation after busy and very structured days during the school year.
“Can I play a game on your phone?” are the words that I usually hear after my 8-year-old daughter tells me she’s bored. Truth be told, I have found myself handing my daughter (and my 5-year-old son) my phone so I can wash the dishes, answer a few emails, or simply have some peace and quiet.
However, as a school counselor who has witnessed firsthand the potentially devastating side effects of technology, I know the importance of limiting screen time for my little ones. Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter — these are the ways our young people communicate, socialize and interact.
Unfortunately, I have also seen how addictive and possibly destructive these platforms can be for our youth, especially young girls. As a mother, one of my greatest fears is that my daughter will one day experience some of the trauma that can occur due to social media and technology. As an elementary school counselor, it breaks my heart to know of the potentially harmful effects that messages received via Snapchat and other social media apps can have on the mental health of our youth.
So, what can we do? It can sometimes feel as though we are powerless. Our kids are so much more advanced with technology than we adults are and they are so heavily influenced by their peers. However, I do believe (I have to!) that as parents there are things we can do to lessen the potentially harmful effects of technology.
Here are just a few of them:
Limit time on screens
This includes phones, tablets, video games, TV. It’s unrealistic to completely banish all forms of screens. Plus, there is value to some use of technology, especially in today’s ever-evolving technological world. The important thing is to set boundaries that work for your family. This could be a daily or weekly time limit that your child knows, and use a timer to keep track.
Limit your own screen time
We often tell our kids “no” to using technology but then don’t model this for them. How often are we scrolling through our phones while our kids play at the park? Or answering emails while they do homework? Kids are very observant and also want to mimic what they see their parents doing. So set a limit for yourself as well. I know I have to tell myself: “You don’t need to answer that text right now — it can wait,” especially during times I am engaging in positive experiences with my children.
Summer is a wonderful chance for kids to explore the great outdoors, especially in this beautiful place we call home. My son can observe insects for hours on end right outside our front doorstep. The problem solving and critical thinking skills that kids can learn, just from free play in the fresh air, is amazing.
Really, limiting screen time is just like other things we monitor for our kids (ice cream, potato chips, syrup on pancakes). Small quantities are OK, but the time is now if we want to help our future generation make wise choices about what they put into their bodies as well as what they feed their brains.
So the next time your child says, “I’m bored,” ask them to build a fort with you or go on a walk or make a tower out of mini marshmallows and toothpicks. Because I believe that as parents, we have the power to make a difference in bettering the future of our world.
Adrienne Thomas is a mother of two and a counselor at Edwards Elementary School.
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