The Hidden Joy Found in Screen-Free Summers

This is the second post in the Simple Summer series. A series about preparing for summer now in order to avoid the dreaded, boredom-filled whining that starts about 4 days, 2 hours and 23 minutes into summer break. (At least that’s what I’ve heard). Click here to read about Simple Summer Routines.

The floating dandelion wishes danced across the yard — following the invisible ballet of the breeze  —  much to my daughter’s absolute delight. She scurried to find the next one. As she was blowing wishes, I noticed her glancing my way. 

She wanted to be noticed.

Little does she know I revel in watching her  —  flyaway curls surrounding her striking blue eyes.

But how many moments had I missed when my eyes focused on a screen instead of the beauty surrounding me?

A few years ago the screen addiction hit home for me when I read about a mom who had done an experiment. She decided one afternoon to put her phone down, watch her little boy play and count how many times he looked over at her.

In 30 minutes the glances were close to 50.

He wasn’t looking over at her because he needed something, he just wanted to be seen. 

We all experience a deep desire to be seen, known, loved.

She immediately became more intentional about her screen use and decided she wouldn’t check her phone when he was around.

That was a drastic change for her as it would be for many. After all, how many times do we pick up the phone with the intent of sending a text and then decide to do a quick check on Facebook, which leads to rabbit trail after rabbit trail? 

In the meantime, our kids are watching and wondering if they are more important than the tiny screens in our hands.

Of course our children, while downright exasperating at times, mean more to us than our phones. But do our actions show that?

The minute I caved in and got a smartphone (I had held out for years), it started creeping into my daily routine. Everything was so convenient!

After reading that article, I recognized it was a clear addiction that needed to be addressed. 

Screen-Free Summers - Simple Summer With Kids -

To break myself of the reach-for-the-back-pocket habit, I had to leave the phone in another room or in a drawer. 

The experience was freeing! 

It’s been years since then, and I’ve gone through seasons of too much phone use back to intentionality.

I’m not immediately available by phone because of it, which drives my mom crazy!

The Almost Immediate Benefit of No Screens

As my boys got older and they were allowed to play video games, I began to notice negative behaviors. If they played for over an hour, they became mean-spirited and angry.

Each day, the first activity they could think of was video games. 

We attempted limiting screen time to weekends or rainy days only to avoid the constant, “Can I play now?” Earning screen time through reading was another idea we tried.

Eventually, I even made them play, thinking they would get sick of it and want to do something else. Nope!

Last spring I was beyond frustrated and said, “Forget it, we’re doing a screen-free summer!”

During a remodeling project, we had taken the TV down and it hadn’t put it back up (still haven’t, but that post is for another day). The video games were packed away too. No DS’s, tablets, or old phones allowed.

The first week was a detox week (which let me know this can be an addiction), but I didn’t give up, and they realized I meant what I said.

During the second week, and throughout the summer, I began to notice amazing things happening:

  1. Outside play increased. Basketball, football, bike riding, water play and imaginary play with the little kids became the norm. There was laughing, and the fighting decreased dramatically. 
  2. Creativity and imagination grew. Instead of zombie-like screen trances, they were pulling out paint or pencils to make pictures, building with legos again and even writing stories. 
  3. Reading was more intense. While one of my boys is a bookworm and turns to books regularly, both boys had books near them at all times. When they got bored, they didn’t come running to me to solve it. Instead they started to read.
  4. Kindness increased. Instead of fighting, they were more helpful to each other and if I asked them to help me, they did so more readily. 
  5. Small joys were celebrated. We watched clouds, enjoyed the rain, noticed the beauty of sunsets, danced together, snuggled more and read more books together. Since I limited my screen time in front of them, I was able to watch them. Their faces shined with pure delight and happiness. 

Our screen-free summer was a peek into what true connection looks like. As my kids continue to grow (my oldest just grew taller than me this week!), I want them to know healthy relationships grow without screens. 

Why did I allow screens to come back?

At the end of the summer, I kept my word and let them have screens back, because I also believe they need to learn how to handle themselves with technology.

We’ve had many discussions about the difference between using a screen to learn something versus using a screen to tune out.

I don’t have it all figured out, yet, but I’ve tried a couple things throughout the year to help them make good choices.

My oldest has more maturity in his decisions, so I allowed him to manage the balance between screens for learning, screens for games and other activities. The results were mixed, but I will try again when screens come back in September.

My second son doesn’t have the maturity to balance his time well. He went through the year with various limitations.

I’ve heard of families whose kids will play on screens for a reasonable amount of time and then go do something else. Mine won’t do that at this point.

As summer draws near again, I feel a wave of relief over my soul. The constant battle and learning curve of the screens will be on pause for three months, and I can’t wait.

I’m ready to see my oldest children willingly play outside, read books and build stronger bonds with their younger siblings.

If you’re thinking a screen-free summer sounds glorious, but you’re not sure how to make it happen, don’t worry. I’ve created a checklist (aren't they so satisfying?) for you to prepare for the joy that is a screen-free summer. All you have to do is click below.

Would you ever experiment with a screen-free summer? Why or why not?

If you have any resources about helping kids use technology well, please let me know by sharing below.