by Dr. Lisa Lenhart, Ph.D.; Child Psychologist
It is easy for children to while away the summer months primarily focused on electronic devices: phones, computers, portable games (i.e., DS), IPads, gaming systems provide an ever-increasing array of devices for children and draw attention away from interpersonal interactions, sports, and reading or writing. However, over focus on these games and devices can lead to greater difficulty re-integrating into the academic environment once school begins. These electronic devices also provide more immediate satisfaction (“wow! Went up a level!”) that can get in the way of the development of frustration tolerance.
A study initially conducted in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s called the Stanford marshmallow experiment, evaluated whether children would be able to delay gratification (eating a marshmallow) knowing that a reward would be given if they waited (two marshmallows rather than one); this study found that young children who were able to delay gratification were much more successful in school at a later time and were less likely to experience substance or drug abuse at later ages. This study suggests that helping our children learn to delay gratification at a young age can have long lasting positive effects, and electronic devices and the games on these devices are counter-productive to children developing the capacity to delay gratification.
Over the summer months, parents can help their children begin to develop associated skills. One step can be to have children set one or two goals each week, determine what steps they would take daily to accomplish these goals, and then monitor progress towards these goals. These goals can be more academic (i.e., read one chapter in a novel each day) or related to other areas of life (i.e., improve swimming skills, make one new friend, learn how to build a bird house). Making the goals fun and interesting can help children develop the skills needed to be successful in life with minimal resistance. This type of goal setting provides some focus on self-control, through the limiting of access to the more desirable electronic devices, and coping with frustrations, as rarely do plans proceed exactly as predicted. This process is also helpful in helping children to begin to see the relationship between their actions and the outcomes or consequences of their actions, which allows for stronger decision making and planning skills.
This is not to say that electronic devices should be completely banned over the summer months- but finding a balance between the use of electronic devices/games/social media and participation in more focused and productive activities will both smooth the transition back to school and help your child develop skills for a more successful life.