Kids, Screens, and Summer: The 3 Decisions Parents Must Make

I remember the summers of my early teen years like yesterday—playing wiffle ball games with my cousin and neighborhood friends, even keeping our statistics on a legal notepad. So we were a bit competitive. When it wasn’t our turn to play outside, we were inside having Tecmo Bowl tournaments on Nintendo 64. 

A lot has changed since the '90s.  

Today, kids no longer have to walk inside or blow the dust out of the game console to play on a screen. Remember that? They’re also not as likely to be sitting together punching each other in the arm or laughing hysterically while they play the game.

Instead, the screen goes with them wherever they go, usually alone. Their peers connected with them through wireless communication, sometimes on the other side of the world.

Last week I described the real cost of our digital babysitters. I also promised to offer, over the next few weeks, strategies for a summer screen schedule for our kids.

For some parents, even thinking about the idea of setting limits on screens is new.

But consider that when screens go unmonitored, especially for an entire summer, not only are our kids’ brains neurologically becoming wired for a screen, we miss out on an incredible opportunity to teach them the value of budding friendships and summer memories forged through play. 

To begin setting limits, here are the three decisions we need to make to win with the screens this summer.

1.   Deciding that Limits Matter: Without plans or goals, we live accidentally.

Accidental living is exhausting and leads to laziness.

I’m not saying you’re a lazy person if you don’t set limits on the screen.

However, when we decide not to put a plan in place for a particular area of our life—setting a budget, exercising, going to church, setting limits on technology—it shows either that we’re lazy with this area of our life, or that we don’t really believe it matters all that much.

With the overwhelming research on the advantages of monitoring screen time for our kids—both relationally and academically—limits matter.

2.   Deciding to Set Limits Yourself: Our kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do.

If we text and drive with our eight-year-old daughter, we cannot expect her to not text and drive when she’s 16.

Christi and I have an electronic-nuptial (e-nup) agreement in our marriage. We’re very clear, in our relationship, about screen time rules. For instance, we don’t text and drive, technology is completely omitted at any meals, and we hold a 24-hour fast from Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown. To download a free sample e-nup, you can sign up at our member page here.

Helping our kids learn to use screens maturely begins by showing them—not just telling them—why limits are important—even for us.

Remember, anything you cannot fast from, owns you.

3.   Deciding to Invite Your Kids into an Ongoing Conversation: Mister Rogers once described discipline as adults helping children learn self-discipline.

Our goal isn’t to police our kids’ technology use for 18 years. Instead, it’s to teach them how to police it themselves.

Just like sex, technology should not be a “talk,” but an ongoing conversation. This is where the summer screen strategy is developed, not just with your rules, but with your kids’ input. We call it the Family Media Agreement. This conversation will be the topic of next week’s summer screen strategy.

For now, sit down with your spouse, decide that limits matter, and begin this week developing the e-nup.


Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and president and co-founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyHe wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.