How To Regulate Screen Time During Corona

It is no big secret that all screens--televisions, computers, hand-held games, iPads, tablets--are what most of us, kids in particular, are facing every day. The question is what counts truly as "screen time?" Does virtual learning count? What about Zooming with friends? How about unwinding with a video game or a digital book? Where do you draw the line and where does it begin to blur?

Pre-Covid (gosh when was that?!?) most things were preferable then being on a screen. Go outside and play kids were told. Team sports and activities were the norm. However, now the rules have changed. Playing with anyone from outside one's family, or "pod," is considered unhealthy. Add into that fact is the time of year. We are just coming out of winter, so hopefully the weather will begin to warm and being outside, even on one's own, will be possible. Pre-Covid the belief was that more time OFF of screens was beneficial. During Covid the belief of many child psychologists and other specialists is that socializing is such a critical aspect of growing up that doing so on a screen is preferable to hanging out, unsafely, at a friend's house, where the chances of contracting Covid is greater.

“I tell parents to congratulate themselves,” Dr. Dave Anderson says. “The more your child is socializing on screens, the safer they are.”

The way screen time is viewed needs to flipped on its head. Now, rather than tallying up how many hours each day is spent on-line, in one way or another, it is important to gauge the overall health of every child. The important things to keep in mind are general questions to determine how your child is or is not doing. The questions are pretty straight-forward, although a bit altered from the questions that would have been asked pre-Covid.

PRE-COVID QUESTIONS:

  • Is your child spending time with friends, socially?
  • Is your child keeping up with schoolwork?
  • Is your child participating in extracurriculars?
According to Dr. Anderson here are how our questions should look currently to determine whether children are using screens in excess:

DURING-COVID QUESTIONS:

  • Is your child sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?
  • Is your child getting some form of exercise every day?
  • Is your child spending some quality time with family?
  • Does your child use some screen time to keep in touch with friends?
  • Is your child invested in school and keeping up with homework?

If you find the answers to the above questions to be predominately negative than a deeper delve into what is motivating behaviors is necessary. “If the worry is that your child is having too much screen time, it’s not about how much time that actually is,” Dr. Anderson notes. “It’s about what it infringes on.”

Okay, but now it is time for honesty. Covid is here for the foreseeable future, and with it comes some sort of isolation and/or quarantine. In response to that there are ways to make screen-time as healthy and developmentally appropriate. An example is that although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under the age of two, there are exceptions; Face-Timing with family is a wonderful way to continue building relationships between family members who do not reside under the same roof.

Another example is to help screen-time become as social as possible. Whether children are eating lunch "together" over Zoom, or playing a multi-player game, the bottom line is that they are socializing. "The role of socialization is to acquaint individuals with the norms of a given social group or society. ... Socialization is very important for children, who begin the process at home with family, and continue it at school. They are taught what will be expected of them as they mature and become full members of society." Fostering the process of socialization over screens allows the process and development to continue, Covid or not.

YouTube, on-line courses, and monthly subscription boxes are fabulous ways to develop new hobbies and interests. The Child Mind Institute has a wonderfully thorough list of creative and educational on-line activities that can be found here.

Now comes the hard-part, enforcing limits on screen-time when it becomes interruptive to normal socialization.

Something to try first is to put yourself in your child's shoes. Think about what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Their world has been shaken to its very core. Unlike most adults, children do not always have the vocabulary to express what they are thinking or how they are feeling. Help your child find alternatives to constantly being on a screen. Acknowledge their emotions, validate them, and then gently suggest various options of things to do. This way, rather than just telling them no you are helping them find a positive replacement.

Humans are creatures of habit, both adults and children. With most everyone working or schooling from home schedules and days tend to blur into more of the same. By creating a routine, or schedule, WITH your child a sense of regularity is reintegrated into their lives. Humans tend to feel safer and more at ease when they know what is coming up next.

In conclusion I return to Dr. Anderson:

[P]arents [are urged] to remember that even if your child is struggling lately, increased screen time isn’t likely to be the cause. “The most likely explanation for teens’ increase in depression during the pandemic is the pandemic itself,” he says. “It’s that they’re not seeing their friends, and all these other stressors. It’s not that they’re watching a little more Netflix.”

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