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Balancing screen time over the holidays – advice for parents and carers

SWGfL, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, has put together some tips for parents and carers to help families balance screen time and summer fun.

Summer holidays – that beautiful time when your family has a break from the usual routine, when you and your children have the opportunity to slow down, reconnect, and explore, and when six weeks can feel like the blink of an eye and a lifetime at once! One of the greatest challenges parents and carers face over the summer holidays is in balancing screen time with outdoor and offline activities.

As well as the relaxation and time in new places, the summer holidays also offer families a chance to talk about their tech habits in new ways, with more time to explore and listen to each other. Children and young people can open up and share the fun things that they are able to do online, and parents can have a better understanding of the ways tech can educate, inform, and engage their children. Be it gaming, photography, film-making, or social networking, these six weeks can be a perfect time to better understand the things your child is doing online and learn about how valuable they can be for their development.

Equally, you can also take this as an opportunity to have conversations about ensuring online activities support wellbeing and health. Explaining that balancing screen time is about moderation and self-regulation, not restriction, is an important distinction to make and the summer holidays give you the perfect opportunity to put this into action.

But how can you start these conversations - especially tricky ones concerning balancing screen time? And what can you do to help your family in balancing screen time and summer fun?

Tips for balancing screen time

Here are some of our summer holiday tips to help your family achieve that balance:

  • Have a conversation about summer activities you are planning as a family
  • Create a plan as a family of days out, daily summer routines and ensure every family member gets to pick one activity for the whole family to do together.  You could use our Family Summer Challenge for ideas!
  • Agree to limits together so that your child knows when they are expected to turn their video game or smartphone off   
  • Invite friends or family members over for outdoor play or outings
  • Create a challenge to learn something new: an outdoor skill or hobby
  • Re-introduce board games, card play or toys to your family, with new titles like Fortnite Monopoly or old favourites like Rubik’s cube
  • Remember that late nights can be fun, but good quality sleep is essential
  • Watch a TV or online series together and agree limits so that binge-watching is reduced.

We often say that not all screen time is equal. Time spent online can be a great opportunity for being creative, for learning new things and connecting with family and friends. If you want to encourage quality screen time rather than mindless scrolling, we have some tips that you might find useful:

Tips for quality screen time

  • Consider a family summer agreement on tech use – you can find samples here
  • Review the latest apps, games and movies on Common Sense Media to begin a conversation about what you enjoy online
  • Play online games with your child and ask them about the strategy or why they like the game
  • Do some online research on your family history or your community
  • Watch a movie together and discuss what’s happening, what you did or didn’t like
  • Download apps that encourage you and your family to be healthier or enjoy time outdoors (fitness, treasure hunts, birdwatching are just a few examples).

Overall, don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your family to have that perfect summer holiday – or the perfect conversation about tech use. The most important thing is that you spend time as a family together, online and offline, and make those special memories.

For more resources on self-regulation and achieving balance around screen time, you can check:

Our advice around screen time
BBC’s Own It website

Research: Oxford Institute on self-regulation and video games
Ofcom Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report 2018

This article was first published on the SWGfL website.