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July, 2013

Should kids unplug over summer break?

By Liz Logan

The debate over how much tech is too much tech is particularly anxiety provoking during the summer, when children are freed from their rigorous school-year schedules and have more time to play—with or without a screen. While some summer camps require that students turn in their devices, Longacre, a popular summer camp for teens and tweens, announced earlier this year a new “anything goes” policy for tech usage, in response to demands from parents and campers.” In 2013, asking students to go without their devices—and asking parents to be out of touch with their kids—is unrealistic,” says the camp’s website.

Whether kids are at camp or not, summer brings big challenges, so we sought out advice about family tech use during the summer from a few experts. Here’s what they said:

Unplugging entirely is cheating (not to mention cruel).

School is a social place, and some kids lose that social interaction during the summer, which is why it’s important not to unplug completely. “Staying connected, which might be through social media or texting, is a way for kids to preserve their social connection,” says Matt Levinson, author of “From Fear to Facebook” and head of the Upper Division at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, California.

Meredith Sinclair, a parenting columnist, blogger and mother of a teen and a tween, agrees: “I have to be respectful of my teenager, who wants to communicate with his peers over the summer, and he does that via text.” Banning tech—which breeds resentment—avoids the real challenge of helping kids learn how to manage and moderate their tech time, she says.

Parents need to set an example by being thoughtful about their own technology use.

If kids can’t unplug, it might be because their parents never do. A recent survey from Northwestern University estimated that roughly 40 percent of families are “media-centric,” meaning the parents consume an average of 11 hours of screen media per day. So, how do children learn to do anything less?

“Don’t ask your children to do things that you don’t do yourself,” says Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist who has written two books on parenting. “Parents first have to examine their own habits, dependencies and preferences. We can’t ask our children to unplug if we don’t change our relationship with the ‘iDistractions.’ “

Just as kids get addicted to texting their friends, parents are often addicted to being constantly in touch with their children, whether it’s through a school’s online portal, or services such as, where parents can scroll through and buy photos of their kids at summer camp. Summer is an opportunity for respite from technology—that is, if parents can loosen the electronic tether.

There’s also time in the summer to talk with kids about why too much tech can be harmful. “I talk to my kids about the effects of tech, like feeling uncomfortable in your own skin and getting a little grumpy,” Sinclair says. Because she has built up her reputation as a parenting blogger through social media, she says, “I talk to my kids about the struggle that I have turning it off.”

Find an approach to regulating technology use that works for your family.

It’s always good to have at least some ground rules that the whole family follows when it comes to technology at home, such as:

Setting a time limit for recreational tech use each day.

No devices at the dinner table (should be year-round, Mogel suggests).

No devices in the bedroom at bedtime (especially important with teens).

No media starting one or two hours before bedtime.

On summer vacations, Sinclair has worked hard at giving up all media for days or weeks at a time. But with her teenage son, she find that letting him use his phone for 15 minutes here and there makes it easier to maintain the overall “offline” experience.

Instead of banning devices, do fun things that don’t involve technology.

Since there are fewer and fewer places that don’t have Wi-Fi, families really have to work at doing face-to-face activities together and making that “a spiritual value,” Mogel says. It might be something everyone enjoys, or something the kids really enjoy—a horse show, a concert, motocross, hiking in the mountains. She suggests involving kids in cooking and menu planning for the family, for example, and encouraging creative projects to continue for more than just a short time.

The duties of good family citizenship, including chores that might not be required during the school year, are another good (albeit less fun) way to get kids offline. “Their privileges are earned; they’re not entitlements,” Mogel says.

And finally, a little boredom never hurt anyone. “Parents get afraid of the word bored,” Sinclair says. “We want to fix that right away, and sometimes you just have to let them be bored for a good 20 minutes. Then, miraculously, they begin to uncover things to do and tap into their own playfulness.”

July 9, 2013