We’ve all been there, in the thick of the Florida summer, finding shelter and taking solace in our air-conditioned houses, staring at our phones or computers, and waiting for the relentless summer sun to set a bit before we even dare step out of the house.
I’ve always thought of Florida’s summertime to be somewhat like a hibernation period for most Floridians, which I’m sure comes across as both ironic and depressing to some of my friends in the Midwest and Northeast. Children and teens spend the majority of the year in school only to be let out during summertime, where the weather is too oppressive to want to do anything besides sit inside in the first place.
It’s a sticky situation if you ask me, and no, I’m not just referring to the concoction of sunscreen and bug spray you have to rub all over your skin in order to somewhat function in the outdoors. This leaves so many people to spend the majority of their time inside the house, wallowing in the light of a cell phone, laptop, tablet or television, wasting each of the precious summer days away.
This isn’t just a guess on what summer vacation is turning into for students: A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, which surveyed the online experiences of children and youth around the world, found that adolescents and young people are the most connected generation and that children under 18 represent one in three Internet users worldwide. Though this can make young people some of the most well-connected and resourceful people, it also comes with major risk factors, such as the ties between Internet use and mental health problems like anxiety and depression, as well as the potential for accidental exposure to sexual abuse, child pornography and sex trafficking.
Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under, rich and poor, now have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. That is up from 52 percent just six years ago, according to a nationally representative parent survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization.
As more and more children and teenagers are taking their summer break through online platforms, valuable time that could be spent connecting with others face-to-face or with the natural environment is being tossed to the wayside.
So, what’s the solution here? As more kids are getting access to technology at a younger age, parents are struggling to keep up with the tides of technological advancement and balancing all the pros and cons of giving children early access to the Internet or not.
The key here is balance and the correct adjustment of choices. When young people are given a variety of engaging and entertaining options, they might be more likely to choose the ones that do not require a screen in their face for hours on end. Parents these days can struggle to keep up with the constantly changing culture wave that has spawned from the Internet – from memes to challenges, new social networks and games, it can feel like there are more reasons than not for children and teens to stay on their phones for hours on end.
However, if the idea to find new ways to spend time together as a family or even with friends without the inclusion of technology emerges, you have to take it. Each of us has to be okay with putting down the smartphone, ignoring the notifications and emails, and disregarding trying to capture each second in our camera roll, and instead embrace the world around us. Offer to go to the beach or a natural park. Go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a meal together, where phones stay in the center of the table. Pick up a book. If you lead your children and teenagers by example and encourage finding other ways to interest your child rather than just handing them an iPad when they start acting up (trust me, we’ve all seen it), you can use face-to-face engagement in real time rather than through pixels on a screen.
All in all, life is about balance. Balance between work and school, family and friends, and, of course, sunshine and screen time. Though the weather may be hot, you don’t have to curl up into a ball in the A/C (at least not ALL the time) in order to take a vacation.