Carol kicked off her work shoes and put them away in the front hall closet. “Hi, kids; I’m home!” She called out.
It’d been an extremely long workday for Carol, and the commute home had been long and sweaty due to heavy road construction and her car air conditioning being out. All she wanted to do was get her shoes off and collapse.
When she walked into the kitchen, though, she gasped.
The kitchen looked as though someone had dirtied every dish and pan and countertop, and then run out in a panic.
In the distance, she could hear machine gunfire.
The machine gunfire was coming from the TV in her family room, where her teens lounged on leather furniture, still in the t-shirts and sweatpants they’d slept in the night before. One stared, unmoving, at a movie on TV, one sat engrossed in Netflix on an iPad with headphones; the oldest was hunting and shooting camouflage-clad villains in a warehouse on a computer screen in the corner.
“Have you guys been in here like this the entire day?” She asked.
Many parents worry about kids’ screen use during summer vacation.
But what’s a parent to do? It takes too much energy to constantly suggest: “Why don’t you go outside for a while?” Parents already tired from work don’t want to start battles with teens who might become sullen, snarly, and disrespectful when asked to disconnect.
How can parents get teens to do more chores, spend less time on screens, and have more of the kind of summer fun that satisfies most deeply?
1. Realize that all-day screen use may actually be interfering with your kids’ summer happiness.
Charles Fay, President of LoveAndLogic.com and author of the award-winning book From Bad Grades to a Great Life; Unlocking the Mystery of Achievement for Your Child says this: “When kids have no limits over TV, computer games, and other fast-paced electronic entertainment, it doesn’t take long before they become addicted to them…and feel bored by everything else.”
Providing kids with some screen-free summer hours can help them to slow down enough to engage with summer activities and summer memories that satisfy far more deeply.
2. Set up a system that encourages kids to complete meaningful daily household chores without reminders and without pay throughout the summer.
Meaningful chores provide kids many ongoing benefits. Kids trained to do chores without reminders and without pay learn how to start a job, struggle to complete it, and feel a sense of personal power and accomplishment when it’s finished. Chores teach kids self-control, responsibility, perseverance, and delayed gratification, and they provide kids the invaluable feeling of being a contributor—of belonging to something larger than themselves.
Plus, as Charles Fay says: “When children are expected to make contributions to the family requiring sustained effort and sacrifice, they learn how to display these same qualities at school.”
And of course, you as a parent end up doing fewer dishes and less laundry.
3. Consider limiting screens and encouraging chores by simply asking kids to do other things first, before they flip on any “ON” switches.
One mother asked her children to fill out the following form each summer day before using any screens (click here to download this form for your own use):
4. When children refuse to comply with reasonable requests like the ones above, kindly give them some screen-free time to think over your requests and try again.
One suburban teen looked at a list like the one above and snarled: “I’m not doin’ that! You can’t make me! Who do you think you are, taking the TV and the computer away from me?”
His wise mom didn’t even break a sweat. She just kindly and sweetly said: “John, I really think you can handle this. Why don’t you just take a screen-free day and think it over?”
The next day when the entitled teen stumbled downstairs at 10:00 a.m. after sleeping in, he found that his mom had locked the power cords on all the TVs in the house and taken his phone and the home wifi router to work with her.
5. At the end of the day, notice the chores that kids have done and thank them for how they’ve helped the family.
Verbalizing sincere thankfulness for the work they’ve done not only makes kids feel valued for their contributions, it also models gratitude and appreciation—two qualities very important for a happy life.
What else can you do to propel kids toward responsible, happy adulthood?
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.
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This article was originally published on this blog on June 6th, 2016. It was updated on April 12th, 2021.