Managing Winter Break Screen Time

Winter break is finally here! Your children were complaining constantly about school, looking at the calendar every single day waiting for their break to come. And now that it is here, are you wondering why they are not making the most of their time off? Maybe you are wondering why they stay in their room texting with friends? Do they really need to play Minecraft for several hours each day? Now take a look at your own screen time. Have you found yourself needing to space out and binge watch Netflix or play through a few levels of Candy Crush after all the stress that the holiday season brings? 

The concern about too much screen time is warranted. But in this case, it’s because we (kids included) can’t seem to get away from screens even when we want to. But excess screen time can serve a purpose, allowing us to decompress from our school, work, and social lives. Even during the regular day-to-day school and work week, it’s far too easy to let screens and technology take over our lives and the lives of our children. So I encourage families to take action, but not to overreact and to think about positive ways to integrate screen and non-screen based activities into your family’s winter break. 

Here are four tips to manage screen time during the winter break:

Sense of Safety. The safety of your family is your first mission. Mike Brooks, the co-author of Tech Generation, urges parents to attend to kids’ basic requirements of food, water, sleep, and health by invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Kids also need friends, movement, activities, and time to play. Encourage your child to vary their types of play, including imaginative play that does not involve screens. Play games together as a family, encourage them to go get dressed warmly and play in the snow, have a family dance party in the living room…Whatever you do, try to integrate different types of non-screen activities into you and your child’s day.

Increase “healthy” activities, not just screen time. During the winter break, there is a lot more time to eat calorie heavy food, sleep in, and stay up late. This is the perfect time to develop a regular exercise, yoga, or meditation routine. Estimates suggest that it takes between 30 and 66 days to solidify a new, healthy habit. You and your family can get a good head start over winter break, even taking this time to make some health-related New Year’’s resolutions.  Engaging in vigorous physical activity may be more difficult for some who live in apartments or crowded cities, but there are still opportunities to get outside, take a walk or bike ride, or go for a hike. Use screen time to spur indoor workouts. There are thousands of yoga, guided exercise, and dance videos that you could do as an individual or family. 

Maintain your family’s sanity. Getting along, reducing conflict, and keeping busy are all essential for your family’s mental health. Living together 24/7 during winter break means that kids and adults need some of their own space, even if that space is the distance between one’s face and a screen. While loosening the limits on screen time to create more peace at home may be helpful, don’t abdicate control of screen time for your younger kids. Instead, talk to them about your decision to allow them more time than normal and how you plan to work it out. Don’t eliminate structure and expectations. For example, be aware of teenagers who might want to spend all night playing video games and sleep until mid-afternoon. Don’t give up on your expectations, but recognize that school breaks are temporary and sometimes it is okay to adjust for a short period of time. 

Model care, concern, communication, and cuddling in your own screen time. If parents use some of their screen time to talk to friends, check in on family, or communicate with co-workers, kids will observe what many of them already know, that screens can connect people with each other. Because of concerns surrounding the ongoing pandemic, physical proximity may be limited to your immediate family this holiday season. So I suggest cuddling with your spouse or kids and enjoying a bit of screen-based entertainment. Find something you all like, which in itself might involve hours of a fascinating family discussion. Watch a favorite family movie, play a multiplayer game like Wario Ware: Get It Together that is both silly and competitive. Yes there will be screens involved, but you will still be bonding with your family and setting positive expectations around screen time. 

My intention is not to encourage a free-for-all screen time over the forthcoming weeks but, instead, a loosening of limits that could make your household a calmer, safer, and saner place. If you can use screen time in a positive fashion, I encourage you to do so.

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