By Lynette Owens
This may not surprise you, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 stay-in periods, screen time in homes around the globe is at an all-time high. Internet use in the U.S. is now up 70% in recent studies. That includes more hours on the internet for entertainment, the shift to distance learning, increased hours of working from home, and our need for social connections. Google classroom, a free version for schools, has doubled its active users to 100 million while social media use and online gaming is up 32% and 29% respectively.
As strict rules were put in place to keep us home and safe due to the pandemic, rules for screen time have conversely been relaxed.
Whether it is out of necessity, guilt, or both, you need to begin implementing a shift to new rules surrounding screen time. The American Association of Pediatrics provided new guidance that generally acknowledges more screen time may be necessary right now.
No matter who may be issuing the screen time rules, the general consensus is that quality over quantity is the most important factor in weighing screen time limits. Here are some general tips to consider when you’re figuring out a new healthy balance of time on and offline for your kids:
- Acknowledge the reality. Let kids know that screen time is important for school, work, and staying connected. While everyone is using the internet a lot more during this time, it doesn’t mean constant access is ok. It is not healthy to be online all the time and there are alternatives on how to spend your time. Science has proven that kids still need at least 8 hours of sleep each night and should engage in healthy physical and social activities.
- Accept that not all screen time is equal. There are 3 types of online time: Time that is necessary (school or work), time that connects us to others (video chats with family or texting friends), and time for relaxation and enjoyment (games, TV, movies). The first is dictated by their school, the second is something you should help and encourage for your kids, and the third is something to create rules around together. Whenever possible, make the screen time positive – whether it’s to access educational content or watch movies together as a family, and always remind them about good digital citizenship. Make sure online time is spent in safe, kind, and productive ways.
- Have them earn fun online time. Ask your kids to come up with ideas to earn screen time. Have them write a list of ideas or on pieces of paper to pick from a box. The activities they write would ideally be beneficial for them, your family, or others, such as doing a creative or physical activity, reading a book, writing a letter or thank you note, or doing chores to help in the house.
- Be clear about start and end times. Schedules and routines can help everyone feel a bit more “normal”. However, it is up to us to monitor, enforce, and live by those schedules. Kids should not feel surprised when their time is up. Be sure to let them know as they near the end of their time or have them set an alarm so they begin to self-regulate. Better yet, ask them, when do you think you should be done? By having them come up with the time limit and you supporting it, they are more apt to budget their time appropriately and stick to their own rules.
- Use parental controls. There are technologies that can help you manage screen time. Some of these are in your routers, security software, and even on specific devices, such as the screen time feature on iOS. This is useful if a child is not old enough or not able to self-regulate their screen time. However, if possible, you should forego technology in favor of kids learning how to manage screen time on their own. If the time expires, your kids may need to ask you for more time and explain why. In addition to ensuring they rest their eyes, it can also help encourage communication between you and your child.
While the pandemic has forced us to depend on the internet in new ways, it presents us with a great opportunity to learn new skills and habits. Consider encouraging these ways to manage screen time. These new habits will not only be valuable now, but also serve us and our kids well into the future.