Saturday, July 1, 2017

Summer Rules?

There’s an image I see going around Facebook a lot lately. Titled “Summer Rules,” it sets a long list of requirements that must be met before children are allowed to “use electronics.” While I’ve certainly seen some dissenting voices, the overwhelming response seems to be one of great satisfaction. That’s the way to make kids live life right, people explain, congratulating each other on assuring that children make exactly the choices that the adults in their lives think are most appropriate, even during what, for many, is their one real break from school all year long.


As you’ve probably already guessed, I find this graphic frustrating at best, infuriating at worst. Why? Here are just a few reasons…

I already fail to meet this list of requirements every single day. My bed gets made at night, right before I get into it, because that’s my routine and there’s nothing wrong with it. I spend plenty of days in my PJ’s. My hair rarely gets combed out (the breakage! The frizz!), as a light finger combing that doesn’t unnecessarily disturb my curls is usually all that’s needed. I tend to brush my teeth while I open up my computer for the day, checking email and Facebook notifications while tending to oral hygiene. Ditto for breakfast. I get to make all these decisions for myself, because I’m an adult, but I also got to make these decisions for myself when I was younger, because my parents respected me. As I hope I’ve just made clear, doing all of these first section “rules” before electronics every morning, or even doing all of them every day, is pretty arbitrary. Yes, I get that we want children to be clean and to eat well and all that, but there are a whole bunch of better ways to encourage healthy habits besides holding electronics over children’s heads as bribes/blackmail.

Making some things “good” activities, and others “bad” (the old books versus screens dichotomy) is a great way to teach kids just that… But not necessarily in the direction you want. What is forbidden usually becomes more desirable. Screens! What is forced generally becomes less desirable. Books! Art! Playing outside! Tidying! Helping others! Is that really what anyone wants? When activities are instead presented as equally valid choices, when children are involved in family life, and when adults themselves are engaging in a range of different types of activities, children are going to be influenced by that. And sometimes? Sometimes they really love something and will want to spend all their time engaged in that something, and if we want to nurture passion, sometimes we’re going to have to accept that other people--children included--will be passionate about something we neither like or understand, and learn to be okay with that. No one gets to choose what someone else will love, whether they’re children or adults. Also? Lumping things like artistic creation and reading into the same category as cleaning is a good way to extra, super duper discourage them. Like, has anyone really thought that one through?

There are a whole lot of different uses for “electronics.” I’m going to assume here that the creator of the List Of Rules means computers and video games here, and not, say, a microwave, because they’re not very clear. If we’re talking about video games, see above on passion. If we’re talking about computers… Well. Some of the things people regularly do on the computer include: writing emails, reading (fiction and articles and essays and poetry), writing (blog posts or essays or fiction), watching YouTube videos (for both instruction and entertainment), playing games (strategy games and simulation games and puzzle games), talking to friends, creating art, participating in online discussions and forums, researching any topic you can imagine, looking for new hobbies or activities, looking at art… Whenever people decide to generalize “screens” or “electronics” I can’t help but be exasperated. You’d think that when we opened up our computers, there was just one option: Stare At Blue Screen Like Zombie. In reality, the amount of activities it’s possible to engage in on screened electronics is huge. It’s a really big window into a whole lot of the world, and dismissing it as bad, or deciding (as the above image seems to be doing) that virtually any activity off of screens is better than any on seems completely absurd.

Luckily, someone out there named Laura Sweet did a bit of fixing:

“Have you: Woken up today? Then you can enjoy summer like kids should.”

Now that’s something I can get behind.


  1. Thankfully I haven't seen this meme yet. But I love your response.
    So true. So much of what I do and learn is on the computer or my phone. If that is where I go why shouldn't my children go there too?

  2. Thanks for writing this great response.
    The list also defines percentages of a child's time. Even if the list were in some way defensible, it TELLS a child to spend three hours or so on other items and then nine hours on screens, which is just creating what they want to avoid.
    It also invites the realization that the listee can get by with 20 half-hearted minutes of sort-of writing (for example) rather than earnest effort toward a meaningful goal.
    Plus, I personally would resent waking to this authoritarian list, even if I wrote it to myself.

  3. I'm still convinced the biggest cause of screen binging is school. I clearly remember going home after school and literally not being able to do anything more than grab a snack and sit on the couch watching TV. Of course I learnt many things watching so many TV-shows but it's not a fond memory at all!

  4. I agree whole heartedly. However my son is unable to self regulate when it comes to screens. We home educate and if I let him he would stare at cartoons all day. He will go as far as avoid toilet trips. I really struggle to know what's best. However if he'd been at school all year I think I'd be more willing to let him be. I could go on and on. And I'm not sure what my point is. I saw you had a post in defence of screens. Maybe I'll just go read that.

    1. In my opinion, you shouldn't try to regulate various things. Natural consequences are what will regulate various things for everyone. For example, if someone were to eat chips in front of the TV for a whole day, they probably wouldn't feel very well after that. Trying to regulate things will just create problems and increase the desire to do a certain thing.

  5. Thank you. I totally agree with what you have said and am saving the link to this so I can direct people to it, rather than ranting at them rudely! It's so much better said than I could. I so regret the years when I was treating my sons, especially the older two, in this manner.