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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 boy uses an iPad at a table as part of his summer media diet

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.