There are larger issues to deal with than managing screen time during the coronavirus quarantine. Issues of life and death, job security, keeping food on the table, and future financial security are impacting virtually all Americans and other citizens of the world. However, with the vast majority of classroom education taking place online, kids are spending more time in front of screens than ever before. With entire families spending 24/7 together during the quarantine, it’s hard for parents to ignore their kids’ overinvolvement with screens. It was bad enough before COVID-19 – in the recent past, some experts even referred to screen time as an epidemic. With what we see going on around us, we might want to scale back our concerns about excess screen time. But that doesn’t mean that you should ignore concerns about the excess of screen time exacerbated by the shelter at home mandates.
Before we get to what to do, go on a brief thought experiment with me. Imagine what a quarantine might have been like 100 years ago. Kids might have spent more time reading; doing crafts; preparing gardens for the spring; or playing checkers, jacks, or dominoes. Now, imagine that we move 50 years into the future. My image of a future quarantine is one in which kids are forced to connect via their holograms, maybe transport their molecules to safe zones, or spend most of their time with their robot companion/teachers. Once again, step back from your kids and family and imagine what might happen if your kids were confined to their home for 4 or 6 or possibly 10 weeks. In the quarantine of 2020, some kids can get outdoors a bit, but more often than not are stuck indoors and often engaged in screen time for school and recreation. So now, more than ever, parents need useful and simple tips for managing screen time to help them deal with their children’s screen time.
Our team at Learning Works for Kids has been a leading voice in making screen time more productive for children for many years. As you read through this and subsequent articles on this topic, you’ll notice that our approach is much less about restricting screen time than it is about leveraging screen time into other healthy, learning, and engaging activities that will expand your children’s lives. Check out these five simple tips for managing screen time during the coronavirus quarantine:
The first step in managing screen time during the coronavirus quarantine is to recognize that we are living through an extraordinary event and that the rules that formerly applied to our lives, for example, shaking hands, being in large crowds of people, and never giving a second thought to being out in public, have changed. You and your kids are stuck in the house like never before. If you consider nothing else, do the math! There are more hours to fill with activities when at home. Some of that time is likely to be filled with a highly accessible, entertaining, enjoyable activity, such as eating too much or lots of screen time.
Your first job is to maintain the physical safety of your children, and the next is to ensure their psychological health throughout this stressful time. Part of this is taking care of yourself so you can be there for your kids. Just as in an airplane, when the flight attendants tell us to put the masks on ourselves before helping a child, you need to care for your own psychological well-being. In normal circumstances, the quiet time when kids are engaged with screens allows parents to care for family matters or take a break for themselves. It is more important now than ever to reduce your own stress during 24/7 cohabitation. Taking some time off from the COVID-19 crisis while playing video games or engaged in social media helps with stress management for kids. Under normal circumstances, one to two hours per day of recreational screen time is associated with psychological health. I suggest allowing kids to reach the upper limits of screen time and a bit more when with family during the quarantine.
Make some screen time family time.
I suggest having all family members create a wish list of movies, TV series, or documentaries they would like to watch. If you don’t already have Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, or one of the other services, consider finding one that will get your family together. Most of these services allow each family member to “favorite” shows or movies. Find some that the majority agree on and cuddle on the couch while watching them.
Expect and encourage healthy screen time.
Tell your kids they can have more screen time if there are daily portions of healthy screen time and that you will want to monitor this. This could be as simple as facetiming grandparents or friends or engaging in exergames that require physical movement. Youtube videos for home exercise or yoga are everywhere, and the use of a Fitbit or exercise band can be a great tool to encourage physical activity.
Screens are for learning.
While most kids are now going to school online, online education does not end at school. Encourage your kids to go to museums online, listen to science podcasts, and watch documentaries if they want to spend more time on screens or with technology. Better yet, have them take a fun online class on Outschool, where they can learn about painting, woodworking, or how playing Minecraft can improve their planning skills.
What tools are you using to monitor your child’s screen time during remote learning? Leave your answer in the comments below!