For the past decade, experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have advised parents to limit their children’s screen time to a few hours a day, depending on their age. But with students across the country learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids’ screen time has skyrocketed over 50% according to some estimates. With many parents already trying to cut their children’s recreational use of devices, limiting screen time during a pandemic presents a number of challenges for teachers and parents. However, there are several steps parents can take to keep their children active and stimulated while limiting excessive screen time.
Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal
First off, not all screen time during a pandemic is bad. A large part of the increase in screen time can be attributed to remote learning in a virtual environment, and educational screen time has traditionally been valued differently by the AAP. This digital learning has been a vital part of preventing learning loss due to the prolonged absence from brick-and-mortar schools. Using apps like Zoom enables students to stay socially connected and avoid feelings of isolation while maintaining a safe physical distance from their friends. But with usage of other screen types like television increasing by as much as 60% during the pandemic, parents should have a plan for maximizing quality screen time while controlling the overall exposure to screen time during a pandemic.
Hands-On Activities Are Easy on The Eyes
Too much screen time can be mentally draining and physically detrimental to a child’s eyes. Providing hands-on projects for students is a great way to limit screen time during a pandemic and stimulate learning in other ways. Consider assigning a math problem or science project to your student on a weekly basis to keep their math and science skills sharp. This also helps to prevent learning loss during extended school closures.
Set Limits and Kick Them Out Of The House
Okay, don’t kick them out of the house for good, but consider setting limits on the amount of screen time students are exposed to. If your student is learning online, this should be taken into account as far as overall screen time is concerned. Two to three hours of educational screen time combined with an hour of recreational screen time is a good goal. Anything over five hours and you might be paying for glasses soon. Encourage students to get out of the house and go for a hike, walk the dog, or shoot some hoops in the driveway (even if they have to do so alone due to social distancing). Unstructured and offline playtime can stimulate creativity, give the eyes a much-needed break, and help children maintain a healthy sleeping pattern.
Limit Screen Time For Younger Children
According to the AAP, you should avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months, aside from video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages two to five, to just one hour a day of high-quality programming. Keep media use positive and helpful by choosing quality content such as educational programs on PBS Kids. Encourage students to use social media for good by checking in on loved ones and making sure they have everything they need.
Model Good Behavior
As a parent, you should be setting an example by limiting your own screen time whenever possible. If you’re stuck in a 12-hour Game of Thrones marathon, you’re probably not modeling good behavior. If and when you do decide to plop down in front of the TV, try to make it a positive family event. You could even join your child in playing one of their video games if you’re brave enough and don’t mind getting schooled in the art of gaming. Taking an interest in what your kids are learning and watching is good for their long-term sense of self-esteem.
Create Tech-Free Areas
Try keeping family dinners and social events free of screens. Don’t leave the television on when no one is watching it. Let’s face it, we can all use a break from an overload of news and media anyway. Position recharging stations outside your student’s bedroom so they’re not using them when they’re supposed to be sleeping.
By limiting screen time and focusing on quality time, you can help ensure students are maintaining a healthy lifestyle, continuing to learn during school closures, keeping up an active lifestyle, and connecting with friends and family members in a positive way that reinforces their growth and development.
Cheng, E. R., Wilkinson, T. A. (2020, April 13). Agonizing over screen time? Follow the three C’s. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/parenting/manage-screen-time-coronavirus.html
Cross, C. (2020, June 16). Working and learning from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Working-and-Learning-from-Home-COVID-19.aspx
Fischer, S. (2020, March 31). Kids’ daily screen time surges during coronavirus. Axios. https://www.axios.com/kids-screen-time-coronavirus-562073f6-0638-47f2-8ea3-4f8781d6b31b.html
The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018, May 1). Children and media tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx