Managing Screen Time Over Summer Break

Written by Patricia E. Vance, President, ESRB
June 13, 2024

Odds are you have managing screen time down to a science during the school year. Your kids go to school with limited access to their video game devices, enjoy time with extracurriculars, have parental controls enabled to make sure homework and chores get done, etc. But when summer hits and school lets out, kids all over the U.S. have more relaxed schedules and more free time. With this may come the need to recalibrate the screen time equation. Worry not, we’re here to help with some simple tips!

If It Ain’t Broke…

Don’t fix it. Most parents tell us that screen time is their biggest challenge when it comes to video games and their kids. Fortunately, 86% of parents set at least one parental control setting on their kids’ video game devices, and the most frequently used setting is to manage screen time. This doesn’t have to change just because it’s the summer.

If you want, most of these rules and settings can stay in place. That means video games (or all screens!) are off during “school hours” when you may want your kids to be engaged in other activities like camp, playing outside, going swimming, riding their bike, reading a book and/or hanging out with friends, and you can keep any time parameters established by your family’s household rules and/or parental controls during the evening.

Start a Conversation

The best way to re-engage managing screen time for your kids is to start (or continue) an ongoing conversation around video games. Before even discussing parameters and limits, invite your kids to tell you what they love about games, which ones are their favorites, and why. This accomplishes two things:

  1. It shows your kids that you respect their favorite hobby. You’re not looking to take something away. Rather, you’re trying to understand how they benefit from games and make it part of their life in a way that makes sense. There are so many positive elements kids can take away from playing games, and it’ll be helpful for you to understand which ones your kids enjoy most.
  2. It gives you the opportunity to explain why there need to be screen time limits. Video games are fun and offer a lot beyond entertainment value. But – like all things – games should be part of an environment that also includes education, family time, in-person play, and more.

In terms of benefits, you may hear several from your kids and it’s helpful to have some background. One of our previous blogs, written by Dr. Rachel Kowert, highlights that kids who play video games can see enhanced creativity and happiness, as well as a reduction in depression and anxiety. There’s also a lot of “unintentional” learning, meaning new information and skills, that can occur simply by playing a game.

86% of parents set at least one parental control setting on their kids’ video game devices.

Social connection is another huge benefit for kids that play video games. A recent survey from Pew Research found that 72% of teens who play video games (aged 13-17) do so specifically to spend time with others, including with members of their family near or far.

This conversation will allow you to gain a holistic understanding of your kids’ video game experiences and reach a more mutually agreeable set of rules for the summer. Of course, you may want to preserve some wiggle room; after all, your kids deserve some downtime during their break from school to enjoy their favorite pastimes. Ultimately, it’s up to you as a parent to determine what works best for your family.

If you’re looking for some tips to help you set or modify your household rules, visit ESRB’s Family Gaming Guide.

Backing Up Your Rules

Household rules may not be made to be broken, but it happens sometimes… doesn’t it? Parents have told us that they trust their children to follow household rules, but it never hurts to have a little backup. This is where parental controls come into play.

Virtually every device that can play video games offers parental controls settings. This includes the ability to manage when your kids can play, and for how long. Some devices – like the Nintendo Switch – even has the option for you to set a schedule time parameters for every day of the week though the mobile app.

Same games, like Fortnite and Roblox even have in-game parental controls to add another layer of management.

If you have screen time controls activated your kids will receive an on-screen alert when game time is running low. This will let them know that it’s time to save their game, say goodbye to friends, and prepare to sign off. Some devices allow kids to ask for some more time. The request often goes directly to your mobile device or email – which you can accept or deny remotely. Once time is up the console or device will power down and remain unplayable until the next block of scheduled time.

In addition to setting screen time schedules, you can set parental controls to block games based on the ESRB-assigned age rating, manage online communication with other players, and limit (or block!) the amount of money your kids can spend on new games or in-game purchases. Visit PrentalTools.org for step-by-step parental controls guides that can walk you through the setup process. And remember, all of these are password or PIN protected, so make sure this is something your kids can’t guess!

Staying Involved

No matter what your household rules are, the best thing you can do to manage your kids’ video game experiences is to stay involved. Keeping the lines of communication open and honest is a great way to stay on top of your kids’ changing tastes in games and what they’re getting out of them. It doesn’t need to be a daily check in, but it can make for some fun dinner conversation as your kids walk you through their newest interactive adventure.

And who knows, maybe they’ll inspire you to join them for a video game session and make it a family activity.

Patricia E. Vance is the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).Patricia E. Vance is the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In her position, she leads the teams responsible for assigning age and content ratings to video games and apps, enforcing marketing guidelines adopted by the video game industry, and operating ESRB Privacy Certified, an FTC-sanctioned COPPA Safe Harbor Privacy seal certification program.