Over the past decade, access to electronic devices has become a presumption, rather than a luxury for many kids. While waiting for the doctor, they can play a game on mom’s phone. While waiting for dinner to arrive at a restaurant, headphones go on and the adults talk while kids watch YouTube on iPads. These days, being stuck inside without playdates and open space, many parents are feeling the constant push and pull of screen time. Screens can feel like the ultimate savior and at other times, the absolute enemy, so, what should you do to find a happy medium between the two? Challenge yourself to think of screens, especially in our current world, as a access to opportunities, rather than a negative experience.
Enjoy screen time together.
Watching a movie or tv show can be a great way to relax. It provides space to be together, while removing the pressure of parents having to provide entertainment. The key to making these moments positive is to discuss what is happening on the screen. Help your child to understand the plot, identify emotions, consider different perspectives, and sustain attention by taking the time to check in as you watch or right after.
Playing video games with your child may not sound like your cup of tea, but part of being a parent is accepting that your child’s interests will not always match up with your own. If video games are not your thing, think of video game time as an opportunity to learn about your child’s interests and for your child to teach you something new. Kids love to be better than parents at any skill! While playing together, you have an opportunity to model appropriate gaming, which kids can then transfer to their friendships. If you model calm when you lose, they start to see what is appropriate. If you interact verbally, they can use similar language when playing with peers on their headsets. Playing video games together also helps you to know what your child is learning in the games to better decide if the game is appropriate. If you notice your child misconstruing storylines, you are right beside them to gently correct their thinking. Who knows, you may even end up enjoying the games more than your kiddo!
Use screens to socially connect.
Screens can give your child access to friends, family, games, learning opportunities, and more. While we cannot physically interact with others right now, screens offer a way to socially interact. By grabbing similar toys, a game, or even eating lunch together, screen time can actually provide some normalcy to an otherwise abnormal time. You can absolutely play games like Guess Who, charades, Hedbanz, hangman, mad libs, Simon Says, Taboo, Scattergories, and 20 questions over video. There are also many games like checkers, scrabble, and chess that offer online options, allowing players to take turns through a shared board game.
Online classes can integrate activities such as music, gym, story time, dance, morning meeting, and art, which give parents a much-needed break and provide kids with an outlet for their energies and interests. There may be new activities in your neighborhood offered online that can be continued once a sense of normalcy returns. This can actually be the perfect time to try new things and see how they work for your child and your family. Many classes are offered at reduced cost and in smaller packages. While it can sometimes feel impossible that we can connect on screens, children are typically able to look past the somewhat “clunky” nature of it and naturally fall into their own connections with others from afar.
Establish clear rules. (and stick to them!)
Kids benefit from structure. While they may say that their friends get more time on screens and that the rules are so unfair, the fact is, kids like to know what to expect. Setting clear rules around screens keeps kids from guessing what will be allowed next time and if you stick to your rules, it keeps them from pushing for more time each day. If you are on the same page, it is easier to talk calmly and rationally about screen time. That doesn’t mean the rules can’t change, it just means kids should know what they are working with before they jump into their daily allowance on screens.
Doing your homework will also help you and your child to safely navigate the tech world. Put limitations on child access to inappropriate content and have games, videos, and apps available that you approve of. Doing a quick skim through something your child requests before you give them access will help you feel confident in their use of each program. There are a ton of great materials out there that provide learning experiences in a fun way. Your child may not even realize they are practicing reading or math if the program is engaging enough!
Balance out vision
Remember that with increased screen time right now that means your children will be spending a lot of time looking at things right in the front of them. Remember to help balance out how they are using their eyes and vision. Play “I spy” while looking out the window or looking around your home so that they are scanning for things using distance vision to balance out all that up close screen time that is happening right now.
Support yourself to support your child.
You know best for your family, so trust yourself! A relaxed parent is going to make their child feel secure and supported. If you’re feeling stressed, your child feels that too, so take the time you need to be the best version of yourself. Sometimes, you will need a break and using screens to help you will be the best choice at that moment. If taking time to yourself helps you to be a better parent and it is at the expense of 30 minutes of extra screen time, that is probably worthwhile. When you turn off the screens, check in on what your child was doing or how they interpreted the storyline. You can still connect about their experience, even if you do not know every detail of what happened.