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A Texas Summer Without TV? Let’s Get Real

Summer vacation is in full swing, and the heat is unbearable — and sometimes the boredom is, too. How do we keep the kids occupied while striking a healthy balance? With lots of checklists, activities, and negotiations.

A typical summer vacation day in our house starts around 7:30 am. The first kid tumbles downstairs and I hear, “Daddy, can I watch a show?” Then, almost without fail, I respond, “You need to complete your checklist first.”

Shortly after summer vacation began, Laurie gave each of our four kids a daily checklist specifically designed so they DON’T begin each day asking for screen time. The checklist includes:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair, eat breakfast
  • Read 20 minutes
  • Draw and write
  • Help out – ask Mom or Dad about chores
  • Play 30 minutes

Amazingly, each kid manages to complete this checklist by 9 am most mornings. That’s when the boredom and chaos sets in. Part of the problem is that we live in a part of Texas where the heat is unrelenting. News meteorologists regularly warn us that even a trip to the mailbox can cause a heat stroke. So it’s hard to kick the kids out of the house and say, “Don’t come back in until either someone needs a ride to the emergency room or I let you know lunch is ready.”

[Free Download: Too Much Screen Time? How to Regulate Your Child’s Devices]

I try to let the kids be kids and occupy themselves. They’re good kids, but they’re also wild and messy. So I tolerate maybe an hour of the rowdiness. When I can’t take it anymore, I say, “OK, you can watch a show for one hour.”

There’s a loud, collective “YAY!!!” then a brief melee as they bicker over who gets which device. Then they settle down, and we enjoy an hour of peace. Or maybe two hours if I don’t feel like facing the inevitable bedlam that follows my announcement, “Time to turn off the electronics.”

I look forward to the days when the kids have events — a week-long vacation Bible school, an event or special guest at the library, or a night practice for basketball/cheer/football. Other nights, my wife finds great deals for restaurants, or tickets to a minor-league baseball game or a second-run movie theater. I can barely keep up with our schedule, but I know that shuttling the kids across town is preferable to being cooped up in the house all day and night.

The kids look forward to the evenings when Laurie and I are exhausted and unlikely to put up a fight when they ask for screen time. Now that they’re older, we can’t justify the 8 pm bedtime. Which means she and I have been fighting the electronic fight for 14 hours. So we hand them the remote, and say to them, “You promise you won’t give us heck when we say bedtime.”

[How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?]

“We promise,” they say in unison.

Laurie and I make eye contact, silently communicating to each other, “That’s bull!” But we don’t care because we have another hour of peace to enjoy. Or maybe two hours. I mean, it’s summer after all. Besides, it doesn’t matter if we send them to bed at 10 pm or midnight: they’ll be up at 7:30 tomorrow to restart the whole routine.

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  1. Sounds like my house ! Thank you for being so honest about the “electronics war” and the need to have some peace and quiet on the part of us parents – even if it means we’re sacrificing their tender little brain cells at times for our own sanity 🙂

  2. Ah, I remember those times well. It was the early 90’s, so electronic devices (aside from the TV, Atari, and bulky computer) weren’t a thing yet, and we only had basic cable. That didn’t stop us from plopping onto the couch and watching TV for half the day (9am to 3pm), since both my folks worked. Sure, they tried to control it, by threatening, and later putting a timer on the power cord and locking it in a box (which I figured out how to open far enough to adjust the timer).

    At night it wasn’t so much a battle, as I dutifully went to “bed”, but snuck a flashlight and book (mostly, sci-fi novels) under the covers with me, and read until the batteries, or myself, fizzled.

    Now, as I approach 40, I find myself fighting both sides. Staying up super late, playing video games or following the chain on some interesting topic. All the while thinking, “I should have gone to bed x hours ago.” When I realize I’m down to 3, or sometimes 4, hours of sleep, I manage to finally kick myself off and go to bed.

    I don’t think my parents really could have done much more when I was a kid, but maybe if I had developed positive habits, it wouldn’t be so difficult now (or maybe, once I was out on my own, I would reverted anyway). I hope all your hard work, gives your kids a good foundation for the rest of their lives.

    Regards.

  3. I must say that’s a typical situation for a great number of American families. Recently, I’ve discovered a tech-savvy solution for that. We started to use Kidslox app for our 2 kids two months ago and I see positive changes in their behavior. I just allow them 30 minutes of play during the day and block their gadgets for mealtime and bedtime. And I can do that from my own phone! So no more begging and bargaining in our family. Kids know when and how much screen time they have and gradually they get accustomed to those limits. Don’t expect a split-second improvement but I see positive changes. My sons started to read more and play less. Overall, it works!

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