That’s another one for the books, folks. The 2016-2017 school year has come to a close. And while children have been chomping at the bit to reach that final, glorious half-day of school, parents everywhere have installed a countdown to August 4 (first full day of school) on their cellular devices. It’s time for late nights, sleeping in, vacations, and “I’m so bored” to fill the air after just two weeks.

I can’t really remember many of my summer breaks. I know I worked, but, other than that, I don’t really remember any vacations or anything too different from the school year. I do, however, remember my second summer after graduating college. The first summer, I had just gotten married, and didn’t land my first job (working at The Herald-News, remember?) until October. So, it really just seemed like an extended summer break. But when the following May came, and the weather got warmer, I started getting antsy for “the end of the year,” and then it hit me. I had to work. I had to be a grown-up. I didn’t get a summer break, and I wouldn’t get one FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I’ll be honest. In that moment, going back to school to become a full-time teacher became really appealing.

Many parents find themselves in a difficult situation for summer break. They may encounter the extra expense of childcare while their little ones are home. Or, they may take the opportunity to extend an extra measure of trust and allow their olders to watch their youngers. While summer is a great time and a much needed break for students, it is understandable why some parents find the summer months more stressful than the rest of the days on the calendar.

It’s kinda a no brainer that during those idle summer months, our already media saturated children consume a much greater amount of media than during the school year. The Harris Poll, completed in August of 2015, questioned parents regarding their children’s media consumption Memorial Day through Labor Day, compared to the rest of the year.

First, a few statistics. According to the University of Michigan Health System, 71-percent of children ages eight to 18 have a television in their bedrooms. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 75-percent of teens (13-17) have (or have access to) a smartphone, while just 12-percent in that age category do not have a personal cell phone. 92-percent of teens report going online daily, and 91-percent of those teens access the internet using a mobile device. 24-percent of teens report being online almost constantly.

As you can see, they literally have the world at their fingertips.

So, when we add almost eight hours of “free time,” of course consumption will rise. According to the Harris Poll survey, 52-percent of parents say their children consume at least somewhat more television, while 48-percent report at least somewhat more use of video games. Increases in consumption were seen across other platforms as well, including internet, movies, smartphones and social media. Our teens are beyond just saturated with media. They are water-logged.




I’m not against media. Trust me. I enjoy music and movies and I even have Netflix. I let my children watch movies on mobile devices. But, I keep tabs on what is going in, because I know what goes in will eventually come out.

A few months ago, my oldest came home and told a story about a friend who has a television in her bedroom. “Momma, when can I have a TV in my room?” I laughed a little and simply said, “Uh, how ‘bout never?” It wasn’t too long after, she came home telling me of a friend who just got a smartphone for her birthday. “Mom, when can I get my own cell phone?” “Hmm, well, when you are 16 and start driving, you can borrow mine.”

I’m not living under a rock, I promise (though, if it would take care of the mosquito problem at my house, I might consider it). But study after study shows that parents need to curb their children’s consumption of media. Negative side effects abound. Distorted body image, normalization of violence and risky sexual activity, commercialization of happiness (“If you just had this product, for the low price of $19.99, you’d find eternal happiness. But wait, there’s more!”), obesity (researchers determined that a television in the bedroom was the single most impactful factor regarding childhood obesity), low test scores, poor sleep (delayed production of melatonin), increase in anxiety, not to mention the dangers of interaction on the internet.

71-percent of teens keep their online habits from their parents. Secret apps abound that allow users to hide questionable material within seemingly innocent apps like a calculator (Smart Hide Calculator, Vault Calculator, Photo Locker, etc.). These apps require a certain math equation to be entered on the calculator, which unlocks a secret photo/video storage vault that cannot be accessed otherwise. In addition, more and more tweens and teens are signing on to anonymous texting, picture sharing and video chatting sites (Chat Roulette, Kik Messenger, PhotoSwap, Whisper, Yik Yak, After School, What’s App, Omegle, etc.). In some instances, teens are paired to video chat with strangers from around the world.

It doesn’t stop there. 90-percent of boys and 60-percent of girls are exposed to pornography by age 18, with the average age of exposure falling between eight and 11. A glance of Billboard’s Hot 100 turns up an abundance of sexually explicit lyrics (a 2011 study found an average of 8.76 sexual references per song). This doesn’t even scratch the surface of sex on television and in movies, or the dangers of online predators.

 

I’m not writing this to scare you. I don’t want you to run home and grab your child’s mobile device and smash it (after all, you probably paid for it). While summer is often described as a “carefree, footloose and fancy-free” time, I encourage you to not just be aware, but also involved, in what your children are being exposed to. Know what apps they use. Create an internet or media zone in your house that is in a common, high traffic area. Set up a technology contract with your children. And while there will be push back, make sure they understand that protecting them doesn’t mean you don’t trust them.