Summertime Blues: How Managing Screentime, Daily Schedules Can Help Kids Thrive in the Summer
There are a few things that you can do as a parent or caregiver to help with these summertime blues and maybe prevent some of them.
By Ashley Pagenkopf, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Cook Children's
My girls are just beginning to experience the downtime of summer. My early-risers are finally trying to sleep in longer. They are no longer allowed to start their days with their iPads because it immediately affects their attitudes. But that means that the dining room table is covered in crafts and unfinished projects to keep little hands busy.
This is the season of yelling “CLOSE THE DOOR!” a million times a day, and for the next few months, I will be a short-order cook rotating between their desires for grilled cheese, quesadillas, mini-pizzas, chicken nuggets and everything in between. It’s so fun, but it takes us a good chunk of time to really get into our summer rhythm.
Summertime is long awaited for many kids and teens, but unfortunately, summer can bring about depression in children and teens similar to the cold days of winter. Often in the emergency room, we start to see kids begin to struggle during the last weeks of school and then again in the last weeks of summer. The number of kids struggling with their mental health rises during these times. We know that transitions can be difficult and surrounded by anxiety for kids and parents alike.
As much as kids love the idea of not being tied down to schoolwork and getting a break from the grind, the routine and expectations of school coupled with time with friends and activities, can make summer feel chaotic, dull, and ultimately lonely. Many parents still have to work full-time jobs while their kids are out of school, which can mean a lot of unsupervised time for kids.
It is easy for kids to get their schedules completely flipped – sleeping all day and staying up all night. They begin to spend hours in front of their screens including video games, social media and hours of endless scrolling. Once the summer is in full swing, it can be easy to miss the signs of summer blues that your kids may be experiencing. There are a few things that you can do as a parent or caregiver to help with these blues and maybe prevent some of them.
Establish a Summertime Routine
Kids are immediately out of routine. They finally get to sleep in and have no real time constraints on their day. They have zero rhythm to their days and little expectation.
Years ago, I realized this was not going to work for my kids for the whole summer. To keep some peace in my home and give my girls the best chance for transitions back into school, we needed to have at the very least a loose schedule for the summer. For us that has looked like some quiet activities in the morning. This could be reading, crafts, or play time. iPads do not turn on before 10 am.
I ask them to get dressed, brush their teeth and get ready for the day. We make beds in our home, so we keep that up even in the summertime. They are in charge of their own breakfasts, but sometime before noon. When their iPads turn on at 10 am, they have a limited amount of time on them, so they have to manage when they use their time. We have lunch a little after noon, then they can do some outside activities. Sometimes we go on a bike ride, swim or they play with neighbors or friends.
When they were younger, we had another quiet time in the afternoon that was no screen time. Around 4 pm, we do a clean-up time to get ready for dinner and then plan to spend time together as a family after dinner. Not every day looks exactly like this, but it has been so, so helpful to have a rhythm. This lets them know what to expect.
Many times, when we plan to go somewhere, I try to do that in the morning before lunch so that we can have some rhythm to our afternoon. For my school-aged girls and pre-teen, this rhythm is so important for their brains and emotions throughout the day.
Limit screen time
Limiting screen time is so important. It is so easy for all of us to fall into hours of screen time and not get anything done all day. I am guilty of this as an adult, and we know the damage it is having on our kids and teens. Hours of scrolling are not beneficial to their developing brains.
Our girls’ iPads have a filter on them that I control from my phone. This has been an important investment for us. I can control the time their iPads come “on” and the time that they are able to be on them in a day. I also can see EVERYTHING that they search or look at in a day while also blocking and filtering the content that they can see. I can do this from work, which is super helpful. There are many options for this, but I highly encourage this.
The level at which our kids are being exposed to developmentally inappropriate content along with engaging in dangerous material is astounding. The effects of screen time on children’s brains and development are proven to be detrimental in many ways.
We are seeing the mental health of our kids and teens suffer the more they scroll. My kids have screen time limited to 2 hours during the week and 3 hours on the weekend during the summer months. They are only able to have about 30 minutes on weekdays during the school year to talk with friends and then 3 hours on the weekend. My girls are school-age and preteen. I know that some of these limits will need to change as my girls get older. I also find, like I mentioned before, that our days go much better when my kids do not start their day or end their days with screen time. We try to keep screen time sandwiched in between other activities.
Set Aside Time to Connect with Your Kids
This is something that can be challenging especially if you are working full-time. This quality time is important in the summer as well as the school year. I find, though, that summertime is a great opportunity to reconnect in different ways with your kids without the intensity of school schedules and activities getting in the way.
I try to do bike rides, plan a special outing, read a book with my girls, play a game, etc. Any time that I can get with them one-on-one time with them is even better. Our kids are looking to connect and belong. We want to be the first place that they belong. Prioritizing this time will be one of the best things you do all summer for your kids!
Say YES Where You Can
Lastly, this is the challenge for the parents. We can help our kids by saying yes where we can. Say yes to the walk, to the game, or to friends coming over. If you are the stay-at-home mom, say yes to being the house where the kids can hang out for the afternoon. Say yes to water balloon fights and water play. Say yes to the mess when you can. Say “yes” and “sure” when your margin allows. Our yes is often the bright part of the day for our kids and the things they remember the most.
Summers can be a time when memories are made and the best moments are ingrained in our kids’ minds. So, while the summertime blues can pop up, with a little bit of intentionality and a few yeses, we can combat them and help our kids have some bright summer days!
Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf
Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.