Unpopular Opinion : Living a Technology-Free Summer

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I know what you’re thinking …. whoah whoah whoah, no need to go all crazy and eliminate technology from your life or kids’ lives. That’s just NUTS. Completely insane.

And yes, we may be a bit insane (we do have 5 kids y’all and that didn’t happen by watching tv). But…. hear me out!

Living without technology is completely doable. And not only is it doable, it actually improves your family’s dynamic!

Now, first let’s address what I label as “technology” as its related to children. It’s:

  • Using cellular devices — for gaming, watching YouTube, even playing “educational” apps
  • Using portable devices such as laptops, iPads, Surfaces, etc.
  • Playing games on portable gaming systems such as a Nintendo Switch
  • Playing on stationary gaming devices — XBox, Nintendo, etc. etc.
  • Using a computer — especially to search the internet, watch YouTube, pin pins on Pinterest, play interactive video games
  • Being on social media — any platform, but specifically scrolling Instagram reels & TikTok
  • Watching TV using a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu

What technology is NOT (for us):

  • Listening to music (we connect our phones to portable speakers)
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Watching movies using our old “box” movie player (aka, an old school VCR)

We’ve discovered in the last 15 years of parenting that…

  1. Our kids get super grumpy the more they’re on screens

and

2. Consuming that much screen time isn’t good for anybody, including us as parents.

Today, people spend 6 hrs. and 55 minutes of time PER DAY looking at some type of screen. I mean, the next time you’re at a sporting event, restaurant, or heck, even in a movie theater, look around and see how many people have their faces buried in a cell phone. Most people can’t even sit at a red light anymore before quickly snatching up their phones to check messages.

And yes, I understand a vast majority of us are on our devices for work-related things. We’re not playing Candy Crush all day or agonizing over the daily Wordle. But again, we adults can barely regulate our screen time and we think our kids can do it? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve received comments or had people asking parenting advice over on our community pages on strategies to limit screen time for their kids.

Parents acknowledge their kids are addicted and need to cut back. But the fact remains, little end up doing anything about it. Why? Well, in a nutshell, handing our kids technology is just easier. It appeases them and it gives us a break. (Deep down, don’t you still sorta cringe when you see a toddler watching Blippi while mama is grocery shopping? We feel for the mom. We empathize with her. We even do it ourselves. But have you asked yourself at what cost?)

This is why a few years ago, we decided to essentially go tech free for a summer. And why we’re doing it again this year. It’s really not as hard as it seems. Here’s some tips:

1 Get plenty of fresh air and exercise!

From sunup to sundown, our kids are outside almost all day. Swimming, riding bikes through the neighborhood, playing in our sandbox, playing basketball, jumping on our trampoline, etc.

2 Be the house the neighbor kids come to

We have over 19 kids on our street/cove and many more in adjacent streets. We’ve encouraged our kids to invite their friends over anytime. And if it’s not a good time, we simply send the neighbor kids home. At one point I had 13 kids hanging out in our backyard, making forts and playing ball. The more the merrier!

3 Have kids do daily chores

We up their responsibilities during the summer. During the school year they have the basic household chores (caring for animals, doing their laundry). But summer? Oh bring on the extras — weeding, mulching, planting and watering the veggie garden, mowing the lawn, wiping baseboards, etc. etc. The moment the kids utter “I’m bored” they get a chore. Voila! Boredom solved.

4 Encourage Imaginative Play

Provide your kids lots of ways to explore their imagination — old clothes for dress up, giant cardboard boxes for projects, old pans/spoons for mud pies, playing school with the previous year’s old textbooks and workbooks.

cardboard boxes5 Provide arts & crafts and let go of being anal

Glitter mama, glitter! It’s the summer to sparkle! Let go of your need for your house to be immaculate and let your kids get messy! Finger paint, glue, construction paper, coloring sheets, crayons, ingredients to make slime, homemade play doh. Let them get creative!

6 Just add water

I have a phrase that whenever my kids need cheered up or to feel better, you “just add water.” This could mean a bubble bath in the middle of the day, setting up a water table outside, creating a “car wash” in the kitchen sink, splurging on a giant water pad from Costco, or simply turning on your yard’s sprinkler to run through. Whatever it may be, water solves all problems! (psst: here’s your daily reminder to drink it too!)

water pad7 Explore your city!

Day trips to the zoo, visiting special exhibits at your local botanic garden, or strolling through a local art museum — plan some special adventures! Do those “bucket list” things you’ve been talking about for years or be a tourist in your own city. Need more ideas?

botanic garden
Yes, I get that this is a picture of a toddler, who mostly doesn’t do technology. But it’s because I take her places during the school year. My big kids cannot wait to see this exhibit at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

8 Get wet!

It is summer after all! Join a local community pool, sign up for swim lessons, or hang out at a splash pad. Your kids will be so busy getting wet, there’s no time for technology (and Pro Mom Tip: cell phones and water don’t mix. Ever. No matter how much rice you have)

9 Get kids cooking

Speaking of rice, want something else off your plate AND it’ll help your kids thrive as adults? Teach them how to cook! Get out Great Grandma’s secret recipes and begin passing down those treasured dishes. I’d recommend in investing in kid-size gadgets and knives and explain proper chopping techniques. Not a cook but like to bake? Great! Whatever you choose, just invite your kids to help. You may discover a little family chef just waiting to take over dinner duty!

10 Learn something new

Summer is a great time to try something you’ve never done but always wanted to. Maybe you want to learn to can tomatoes or make jam. Maybe it’s learning a foreign language, like Spanish or French. Maybe it’s a new skill, like knitting. Whatever it is, try it!

11 Get moving

There’s a saying that summer bodies are made in the winter, but summer bodies can also be made in the summer. Get your kids moving more! Walking the dog, running around the block (or more), instigating a pick up basketball game, dust off those bikes you bought back when covid hit, or rent a paddleboard or kayak! Too hot out? Head to a climbing gym!

highpoint climbing12  Read Read Read

It’s better for your kids to have their nose buried in a book rather than in a screen. Need some reading tips for a reluctant reader? Click here. Need some reading suggestions? Click here. And click here for information on various summer reading programs around Memphis. If you have a competitive kid, some programs even give prizes just for reading! Score!

13  Go on vacation

Okay, so this one isn’t for the kids, it’s mostly for you. There’s nothing quite like sitting on the beach watching your kids make sand castles. And they’re so busy (and tired!) from a beach day, they don’t even mind the lack of video games.

14  Learn to say no

Ultimately YOU are (still) the parent, and if you want to limit screen time in your household, do it! Don’t like your kids’ attitudes and lack of respect when they’ve been staring at screens or yelling at their video games, then take it away. Yes, there’s definitely some “re-entry” into the world of play, but once they realize it’s not an option, I assure you, the kids will be ok. Better than ok. Thriving.

Worse case scenario, ship them away to day camp or overnight camp! No technology allowed there either!

* disclaimer : when I said we don’t consider watching movies “technology” it’s because we love movies as a family. AND movies have limits. There’s a start and end time to watching a movie (not continuous episodes like TV shows). There’s also something fun about a family movie night, complete with popcorn. Or going big and renting a projector and making a big deal about a backyard movie. Or heading to the movie theatre for two hours of cool darkness. Pure bliss.

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