Almost everyone of us spends too much time in front of a screen these days. Many, if not most, of us spend most of our days in one – unfortunately, so do our children.
Looking back is of course 20/20. When the pandemic started a year ago, we had no way of knowing that it would last that long. Suddenly the school became isolated and the daycare center ended. Many parents started working remotely and those who stayed at work had less supervision at home. At the same time, sports, game appointments, and other off-screen activities literally disappeared. We went into survival mode, of course, and turned on the screens. We let our children spend more hours in entertainment media than we used to think that it won’t be long. We ignored the violent online games and found that at least our kids were interacting with their friends.
But a year later, we’re still stuck in our homes – and our kids are getting increasingly stuck on their screens.
Life on the screen: behavior and learning changes
It’s not good for them. Aside from the simple fact that screen time is sitting time, too much screen time affects behavior and learning that can transform our children. The rapid stimulation of many of the things that children are engaged in in entertainment media make slower activities such as playing with toys, painting a picture or looking at a book less attractive. Additionally, it can interfere with the learning and practice of leadership skills for children, such as: B. Delayed gratification, troubleshooting, collaboration, and otherwise coping with life’s challenges. It also gives them fewer opportunities to use their imaginations and be creative. It can affect their mood and make them anxious or depressed.
There is the added problem that it is difficult to know what children are doing on screens. Many young children explore violent adult games or social media platforms and their parents don’t even realize it.
Steps Parents Can Take On Screen
We have at least a few months left for the pandemic – too long to fake this screen time issue is temporary. We also need to face the reality that the habits our children are learning may not stop once the pandemic fades. It’s time to make some changes – and build new habits.
So what can we do
Take stock of the problem. Be honest with what your children – and you – are doing. Actually count up the hours and do some research on what exactly your kids are doing online (let them show you around). What you find out may surprise you. We all like to think that things are better than them. We are people. However, you cannot make changes until you know what you are dealing with.
Draw some lines in the sand. The screens don’t need to be on all the time, and some activities just aren’t okay. It’s time for some house rules if you don’t already have them. For example:
- Children should not participate in online activities or games that are not age appropriate. This can include violent video games. Think long and hard about what your child should do. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions.
- Screen time shouldn’t affect sleep. Devices should be charged somewhere outside of the bedroom (or in non-interference mode for teenagers).
- Screen time shouldn’t get in the way of social interaction. Do you have screen-free zones, such as family meals or other family time. (Yes, that also means parents.)
- Screen time shouldn’t get in the way of homework. This is made difficult by homework with screens, but many children get distracted by social media and online games.
As a family, think about alternatives to screens. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we thought it was going to be quick, we all cut corners and were a little lazy to come up with alternatives. Now that we know it’s not going to be quick, we need to reassess.
Talk about it as a family. Make it clear that the screen time needs to be reduced. This is not the discussion. The discussion is about what you could do instead. For example:
- Board games and toys: get them out, make room to play. We forget how fun it can be.
- Do things! Build with blocks, make a city out of boxes. Crates of bottles of wine or liquor can make great homes when put on their side – you can cut doors and windows, and decorate each compartment. Draw, paint or build with clay. Knitting and crocheting can be fun and easy to learn with online tutorials.
- Read books with current pages. Visual novels and comics count.
- Play instruments. Virtual lessons – and free online tutorials – are available.
- Cook and bake. Try new recipes, make old favorites. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
Some of these also affect adult time depending on the age of your child – and that’s not always easy these days. Try to develop some activities that don’t require an adult to be actively involved. Think of activities that adults need as an investment in your child’s well-being – and an opportunity for you to unplug and relax.
Make a family media plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a great tool that you can use. You may have to go through a few versions while working on disconnecting your family from the screens. But that’s fine. It’s about engaging in healthy habits that will serve your children well for the rest of their lives.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire