Determining the right amount of screen time for children has been an ongoing debate for parents. Many articles are available, but some state dramatic information. Others misinterpret or rely upon inconclusive data. Many parents worry about their children spending excessive amounts of time in front of screens. Drastic headlines reinforce these worries.
What do studies say about screen time?
COVID-19 caused schools to implement distance learning. Children are suddenly spending many hours in front of screens. This is counter-intuitive for parents. We have learned for decades that it’s bad for children to spend hours staring at monitors and screens. Suddenly that’s a non-issue?
In reality, there was never a firm conclusion among scientists that screen time is bad. Data does correlate changes in the brain’s white matter to screen time, but other factors were equally corollary to changes in brain structure. It’s difficult for studies to make firm conclusions when data is not specific enough to differentiate these variables.
Should I be worried?
Yes and no. As always, moderation and supervision are necessary. Technology is an important resource. As we continue to socially distance ourselves from loved ones and friends, we should encourage our children to remain social. For now, that includes using the internet for entertainment and social purposes. Video chatting with friends and family members who live outside of the child’s home helps build and maintain positive connections. Parents have been taught to worry that their kids should not spend lots of time in front of the screen, and we agree. In-person education is often more effective than distance learning. Personal interactions and connections are superior social learning opportunities. Physical activity is preferable to lounging around staring at a tablet. However, these times are unprecedented.
Here's what we can do.
We suggest co-parents take advantage of the opportunity to allow children to exercise responsibility and discretion. Many parents have set limits and remind their child to put the tablet down after their screen time is over. We cannot avoid children looking at screens for substantially more time right now. But it’s a good time to help children exercise self-restraint during this time of increased usage.
While children are attending school online, they should still be able to use their usual allotted social and entertainment screen time as usual. Children are already coping with this pandemic including the drastic changes it has forced upon their social lives. Eliminating the types of screen time that your child enjoys only increases stress and eliminates one of your child’s favorite pastimes in these already difficult days. It also allows COVID-19 to disrupt our lives and schedules even more.
Finally, this situation presents a good opportunity to speak with children and teens regarding safe and responsible internet usage. Parents who are working from home can be present to familiarize themselves with their children and teens’ online friends and activities, if they haven’t done so already. Parents can also familiarize themselves with their internet provider’s parental controls and security settings as well as the corresponding restrictive settings on devices such as smart phones, gaming consoles, and tablets.
It's going to be OK
It can be scary to think your kids are mindlessly scrolling through the internet or ruining their eyesight while distance learning. But there are also opportunities here. Children need to be able to practice self-restraint in a safe environment. Many parents are working from home. That means opportunities to provide supervision and guidance have increased in proportion to our children’s screen time. It’s important to remember technology has important benefits during this pandemic other than scholastic purposes. It’s still important to give our children a break and allow them their coveted non-educational screen time. But it’s also important to understand screens will be playing a larger role in our children’s healthy and necessary social interactions. This pandemic will end — but until then, your child’s increased screen time should be okay.
Our Days Calendar is here for you.
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