Managing summer (and quarantine) screen time

Me: “Tell me about how you have been spending your days during quarantine/summer”
Child: “Ummmm…”
Parent: [Biting their tongue]
Me: “Let me guess… video games?”
Child: “How do you know?!?”
Me:  “How much are you playing?”
Parent: [biting their tongue]
Child: “I don’t know… maybe an hour or two.” 
Parent: [Can’t hold it in any more]  “ALL DAY LONG!!”

This is a conversation I have with families nearly everyday and It can be a big point of contention during the visit. Parents think kids are playing too much, kids think parents ‘just don’t get it.’ This juxtaposition has only become more pronounced during the quarantine and as school has let out for summer.
Like it or not, video games are here to stay.  They are a part of our children’s’ culture and often how they connect with friends, especially lately. With another few months of no in-person school and less structured days it is more important than ever to strike a balance when it comes to video games.
First, video games are not all bad. For many children, collaborative video games are the way they connect with friends. These virtual relationships are more important than ever during this pandemic. Further, some video games can help teach some important life skills like teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, hand eye coordination and more (See Dr. Glassman’s Fortnite Facebook video from 2018). 
That being said, there many of our kids are plainly spending too much time each day playing video games.  The AAP recommends no more than 2 hours screen time (across devices) per day.  Spending hours a day in front of the computer detracts from other important aspects of life like physical activity, family time, in-person interactions, reading, etc. 
So, it’s important to find a balance. This can be difficult because parents and kids are starting at different ends of the spectrum. But, with some compromise and an open mind it is possible! Here are a few of my favorite tips to help strike this balance.

Dr. Mechak’s 4 general rules for video games
Video games should not interfere with school work – This means no skipping homework, rushing through homework, pushing off homework that leads to assignments getting done at the 11th hour, or staying up late and being tired for school the next day. [This one may not be applicable during the summer]
Video games should not replace physical activity – Kids should be getting 60 minutes, or more, of physical activity per day. Video games can be played in addition to, but not in place of this activity. 
Parents pay the bills so they set the rulesThis one comes with an asterisk. I would encourage this to be a conversation rather than a decree. You kids are more likely to follow a reasonable compromise than a unilateral rule that they view as ‘totally unfair.’ Compromise increases the likelihood that the rule will actually stick!
Strangers on the internet are no different than strangers in real life – This one is not really related to screen time but still important to discuss with your kids. They should not be talking with strangers while playing video games.  Also, discuss the importance of keeping personal information private.

Specific tips for Quarantine/summer time.
Make a schedule – One of Sir Isaac Newton’s famous laws is “an object in motion stays in motion and object at rest, stays at rest.” This is true of your teen as well.  Making a daily schedule will help prevent them from being ‘at rest’ all day. This is especially important during the summer when the days can be somewhat structure-less.  Work with them to plan their schedule in advance. Build in some ‘non-screen time’ like exercise time, family time, reading/educational time, and some time for video games, too.  Adding some structure day will keep them moving will help keep them away from their screens 
Encourage family activity – The best way to change behaviors is to do it all together. Plan some socially-distant outings as a family.  Show them that they can have fun and connect away from the computer screen.
Set limits and make compromises – See above!  The goal should not be zero screen time, but make some compromises that leave you both feeling satisfied.
Set a good example – Check your own screen use. Often we use our phones, TVs, computers, etc. more than we think.  Make sure you are putting your devices down and setting a good example.
No screen zones – Certain areas should be screen free.  The bedroom is for rest and recuperation and should be kept free of technology temptation.  Family meal time is also a great place to unplug and connect. 
Reward good behavior – Screen time can be a great motivator.  Feel free to reward your child for good behavior with a little (not a lot!) of extra screen time to show them that you noticed!