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How to Strike Screen Time Balance During Distance Learning

How to Strike Screen Time Balance During Distance Learning

Before COVID-19, many parents were concerned about the amount of time their kids spent on screens. In March, however, that concern went out the window with the rapid switch to distance learning for students and the rapid switch to telecommuting for many parents. At that point, screen time became a lifeline. Now, as most U.S. students have settled into almost a full semester of distance learning, parents are revisiting the screen-time question. How much is too much? Where does the balance lie?

In 2015, with the explosion of apps for kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxed their screen time guidelines from two hours per day for children over 2. Today, the AAP’s recommendations are not as cut and dry as they acknowledge that, when children and teens are engaging with quality educational content, some screen time can make a positive impact. Now they emphasize the importance of striking a balance between screen time, active time and rest time. These recommendations can also help you strike the balance with distance-learning screen time in the mix.

Here are some of the AAP’s other screen time recommendations:

  • Designate media-free zones in your home. This might be the dinner table, your kids’ bedrooms, in vehicles when you’re driving around town, etc. Whichever places you determine are screen-free zones, clearly communicate this with your children and explain why it’s important. Then, remember to model the same behavior you expect from your kids!
  • Define the types of content your child is engaging in. Researchers in a 2019 study divided screen time into five categories: passive (watching a movie), interactive (playing a video game), social (texting or engaging in social media), educational (school) and other. Not all screen time is created equal. In this study, educational screen time didn’t reap any ill health benefits while a significant amount of passive time was linked to poor health and educational outcomes. Weigh each one accordingly.
  • Set age-appropriate limits. You’re not going to have the same limits for your five-year-old as you are for your sixteen-year-old. Determine how much screen time each of your children can indulge in each day once their digital school day is done. This might include a breakdown by type of screen time as listed above.
  • Engage in digital media together as a family. Instead of shunning digital media and treating it like a negative thing in your home, find ways to engage in it together as a family. It could be anything from watching a movie together, playing a virtual game of Words with Friends with your child or reading an ebook together at bedtime. When your kids see you acknowledge fun, educational and creative uses for screens, they will be more likely to respect your screen-time boundaries.
  • Keep tabs on what types of content your child is consuming. This is where apps such as Screen Time, Bark and Net Nanny come in handy. They allow you to keep track of where your child is spending their internet time and how much time they’re logging. Many of these apps allow you to set app limits, block inappropriate websites and even shut down your child’s internet access at a predetermined time each day, among other features.
  • Model a good example of screen moderation for your kids. Ultimately, your kids are watching you. Lead by example. If you ask them not to bring their phone to the dinner table but you get up from dinner to answer yours, your expectation won’t be respected and neither will you. Also, if you expect your kids to put their devices away or turn off the TV when you’re having a conversation with them, pay them the same courtesy. Conversely, even if they don’t let on, when you model screen etiquette and self-control, you infuse your kids with the motivation to do the same.

Students as young as five years of age spend many hours of their day on screens. Striking the screen time balance isn’t easy but it’s a situation all parents must navigate. Ultimately, give yourself grace as we are all navigating this shifting landscape together.

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