First published on Parentology – Parenting in the Digital Age
Managing your child’s screen time during COVID-19 has become more challenging than ever. As the bulk of education is presented on screens, and children get most of their social life and entertainment online, they spend hours sitting and staring, while using only a fraction of their learning capacity.
Have you noticed that, after a long extent of screen time, your child comes away irritable, listless, inattentive and uncooperative? Unsavory post-screen behavior can go so far as a child becoming offensive, unable to interact with others, or unwilling to engage in daily life.
This isn’t your child’s fault.
Apart from the heightened dangers of obesity and difficulty sleeping, screen time builds up incredible amounts of physical and emotional tension. Moreover, excessive amounts of screen time lead to a lack of important childhood learning steps that can only be experienced during hands-on learning, play, movement, contact with people and with the natural world. A lack of these experiences leads children to act out, become wrongfully diagnosed with ADD, or simply become unhappy.
Sure, not all screen content is created equal. Faster-paced games, cartoons and social media can create substantially greater detrimental effects on brain development. For example, the more frequent gratification is achieved, even within educational games, the more often the brain releases dopamine, and thus the more often it craves that additional dopamine release. The brain literally can become addicted to its own chemicals, and young children have no defense against this.
Managing Screen Time During COVID
When managing screen time during COVID, make sure programs for young children are short, move at a slow pace, have no violent content and tell a positive, uplifting story.
It’s true that what children watch highly matters, yet no matter if it’s a highly sophisticated kid’s show, homework or a movie, screens create physical and emotional stress. Support your child in releasing that tension by creating opportunities to move, run, climb and jump, which develops their muscles and mind-body coordination. The best release for the doldrums of screen time is engaging in playtime and movement.
Also, offer crafting materials and encourage them to tinker and practice creative thinking skills. Or, engage them in experiencing nature, such as finding a great stick, throwing pebbles into a pond or collecting colorful leaves. Ideally, nature will become a calming place of replenishment in your child’s life.
Parents often express concern that their children must be able to keep up with computer skills for their future success. Yet, by the time they are ready to enter the workforce, computers and programs of today will likely be outdated.
What we can give to children, and what they will need for certain in the future, is the ability to learn on their own, a strong connection to their own body, an appreciation of nature and the ability to communicate with people of all ages. Simple practices such as making eye contact, giving one’s full attention and friendly conversation with people are not a given — these are skills that need to be cultivated every day throughout childhood.
Keep the following guidelines in mind to help you balance your child’s screen time.
1. Plan for Movement Time
Allow your child to be active after screen time in order for him or her to properly process the screen learning. Plan for ample tension-release time in day through movement and play. For example, expecting a young child to sit still at the table for a meal directly after watching a movie will undoubtedly create difficulty for a child.
2. Encourage “Playing Out” Activities
Screen time, including age-appropriate, child-friendly movies and games, often obligate children to “play out” what they have passively observed. “Playing out” activities, such as pretend play and role-play, are age-typical ways of processing information and impressions. It’s common for children to imitate or create their own storylines of whatever they’ve seen on the screen, possibly for days or even weeks afterward.
Create a cozy corner with pillows, pretend play toys, blocks and other props so that your child can replay screen experiences off-screen.
3. Regularly Explore Nature
Spend time in your backyard, a neighborhood park or any natural spaces. Give your child time and space to find his or her own ways to explore. If needed, help with the transition from screen time by proposing outdoor games or activities such as going for a theme walk where you both look for specific colors, listen for birds or investigate bugs.
4. Offer Enticing Alternatives
If your child is reluctant to engage with life off the screen, find something exciting that can compete with the screen. Find other activities that can spark interest: take a camping trip and spend a night under the stars, visit a farm or spend time at a skate park. Also, a puppy or kitten can work miracles.
Every child reacts differently to screen time. Some can handle it better than others. Observe your child and develop a plan based on what you notice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers the following guidelines on its website:
- Discourage screen media exposure for children under 2 years of age.
- Keep TV and Internet-connected devices out of the child’s bedroom.
- Monitor what media your children are using and accessing, including any websites and social media sites.
- Co-view TV, movies and videos with children and teenagers, and use this as a way of discussing important family values.
- Establish a family home-use plan for all media. As part of the plan, enforce a mealtime and bedtime “curfew” for media devices, including cell phones. Impose reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet and social media use.
The extra effort you put into balancing your child’s screen time has enormous long-term benefits. You can help lay a healthy foundation for how your child engages with the world now and into adulthood.