I’ll be the first to admit – we have a major screen-time issue in my home. I know it’s an ever-present issue, but there are times where it becomes incredibly obvious that things have gotten out of control. We don’t have screen time limits (insert shock/awe/horror), and the more Kindle, TV, and phone time my older two children get (Ben, 6, Julia, 4), the crazier they become. They do extremely well without a lot of screen time, and with a lot of outdoors time.

summer-rules

Last summer, I had reached my breaking point with the crying and tantruming over wanting more screen time. Any time I turned the TV off, or a Kindle battery died, it was an all-out epic meltdown. I. Was. Sick. Of. It. Something had to give, because the balance in our family was way, way, way off.

Days full of zoning out in front of movies on TV, glazed looks watching tablets, and video after video after video of “Daddy Finger,” on YouTube. This was not the summer I wanted for my children. I wasn’t entirely sure how to change it – it felt like a runaway train that I couldn’t control. I had to remind myself who was in control (me!), and that if I wanted something different, it was my job to create the change.

summer-rules

I implemented our house “Summer Rules for Kids,” and it changed everything. I’ll be honest with you: the first week was ugly. The kids were still used to endless screen time, and were extremely upset that it was coming to an abrupt end. There was a whole lot of complaining, crying, whining, yelling, and eye-rolling that week.

But after that?

MAGIC.

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Essentially, it’s a list of tasks that children must complete before they can use electronics. It encourages all the things we know we should be doing with our kids, but sometimes don’t. Reading, creativity, outdoor play, helping others, to name a few. It’s changed everything about how we navigate summer, and I seriously could not love it more. Print this bad boy off, fill in your child’s name on the top line, and let ‘er rip.

summer-rules

The kids started waking up and completing their tasks before we even went downstairs for breakfast. They excitedly begged to go play outside. They helped around the house without me asking. They “read” books endlessly (“read” because neither could read at the time, but they spent quality time on their own looking at books, and making up their own stories).

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They were happier, calmer, and more content. There was absolutely an air of peace in the house. I caught them playing creatively and cooperatively together, instead of screaming at each other and fighting over Kindle chargers. They began to engage in imaginative play, and reveled in art projects, doodling, and building things.

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And if I’m going to be completely honest with you, because we’re all friends here, I fudged the numbers every day. I would set timers for each task, tell them it matched the numbers on the sheet, but would actually double or triple the time on the timer. So 20 minutes outside became one hour. Twenty minutes of reading became 40 minutes. They had no idea. <insert secret evil mom laugh here>

summer-rules

Summer should be about endless outdoor play, popsicles, flashlight tag, late nights, campfires, roasting marshmallows, hopscotch, beach trips, and catching fireflies. Mini golf, ice cream cones, parades, backyard camping, and cookouts. I want them outside with me, helping to tend our vegetable garden, playing with worms, and catching frogs.

Children should go to sleep with the delicious scent of sweat, chlorine, sunscreen, and bug spray. Bruises, dirt stains, and scratches are par for the course.

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I want to give my children the magical summers that I remember – long before DVRs, cell phones, tablets, and YouTube existed.

We get 18 summers with our children. Just 18. That’s it. I want to make the most of every single one, as much as possible. I know it’s only a few more years before my littles will want to spend all their time with friends, at summer camp, and sleepovers.

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For our family, I am not ready to go completely screen-free (hey – those screens give me some sanity on most days – a mom’s gotta poop alone once in awhile, eh?). But this shift in our family’s summer priorities has made a world of difference. When I pulled out my trusty Summer Rules list recently, I got some major eye rolls, but I know it will only be a short time before they’re loving this as much as I am.

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You can download your own copy of our Summer Rules for kids, and add your child’s name at the top. Laminate it or drop it in a plastic sheet protector, and you can use a dry erase marker to check these off all summer long.

For more from my column, click here.

summer-rules

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