Screen-Free Summer: Balancing Tech Time with Outdoor Play

Perhaps you look back on your summer holidays growing up with fond memories; endless days spent outside with friends and making the most of the long, sunny days. But now that you have your own child, summertime might look a little different from how you remember. Technology has arguably become a significant part of many of our lives, which although has its many benefits, can make things tricky for parents to negotiate screen time boundaries for children and teens (and even themselves). And with the long summer break fast approaching, you might be considering the best way to help balance tech time with outdoor play more than ever. In this article, we’ll cover some top tips for best managing sunshine and screen time...

  1. Be Reasonable

Every parent’s take on how much screen time their child should be allowed will differ. This may also change depending on your child’s age or if you decide that too much tech is interfering with their day-to-day life. However, if you are adamant about setting a firm rule that all screen time is banned this summer, you might want to reconsider.

For many teenagers, staying in touch with friends often involves keeping connected via social media. While you might not have grown up online, this is likely all your child has ever known. Expecting them to make the switch from the online world to making all interactions in person might be an overwhelming jump that could actually leave them feeling isolated.

  1. Emphasise the Benefits of Nature

This summer, you might find it best to ease your child into the idea of more outdoor time by emphasising the benefits of nature. Not only can spending time outside help improve emotional wellbeing but can also have many physical benefits. Some of these include improving fitness, blood pressure and cognitive function as well as reducing the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And if there’s a particular sport or activity they’re into, spending time outdoors can help them improve their skills.

This way, rather than simply dismissing you because you, as their parent, have told them to go outside with their friends, you’re providing them with evidence that supports what you are saying. Even better, join them outdoors when you can and lead by example.

  1. Help Them to Explore Outdoor Physical Activity

It’s not unusual for tweens or teens to quit hobbies as they find their feet trying to navigate what interests them the most. But summer is a great time to help them potentially explore something else they enjoy outside, with some warmer, more enjoyable weather.

If your child used to play football for example, but just didn’t enjoy the game itself, maybe they like the concept of team sports, so it might be helpful if you spent some time together researching similar activities. You could even ask if there is a new sport they would like to try out with friends so that they can keep connected over the summer.

  1. Tech-Free Zones

Creating tech-free zones can also be a great tool for balancing screen time with spending time outdoors. For example, you may choose to make the garden an area for everyone to ditch their phones, tablets, or laptops and embrace some wholesome, unplugged time. This way, you can help create an association with outdoor space as somewhere that doesn’t involve technology.

By ensuring that the same rules apply to the whole family, your child could be less likely to feel as though this is a direct attack on them. If your teen is willing to join in, you could even set up some activities to enjoy together outside, whether that’s a board game or kickabout. Why not even suggest bringing some books outdoors? (weather permitting!)

Alternatively, you could apply the same rule when you’re spending time together on a family walk or other activity. Device-free time outside might also be helpful for you to reconnect with nature and be more mindful of your surroundings and present company.

  1. Schedule Tech-Free Days

Just as you may wish to introduce tech-free zones in the house, you could also consider tech-free days. First, it could be a good idea to check in with everyone’s schedules. There might be days when your child has a sports club, or you or your partner have extra work commitments. To get the most out of your tech-free days, you might want to schedule these when your household is the least busy i.e. avoiding conflicts with other activities.

If a tech-free day sounds like a bit too much of a challenge to begin with, you could also contemplate a tech-free afternoon or even a couple of hours. During this time, you could aim to go for a family bike ride or even try something new and adventurous such as rock climbing.

  1. Role Model

Who better to help your child spend less time on their screen and more time in the present than you? Even as adults, it can be easy to get caught up in technology. Maybe you spend just as much time on social media as your teen, or perhaps you tend to check your work emails after hours or on the weekends a little too often. Whatever your habits are, your child is likely to pick up on them. So, when you’re asking them to stop texting or to get off TikTok, ask yourself whether you’re demonstrating what behaviours you want or don’t want them to recreate.