Managing Kids’ Screen Time During the COVID Pandemic

“I can’t monitor my kids’ screen time during a pandemic!”

It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard dozens of times since March, and maybe you have too. Maybe you’ve even said it.

It’s understandable, and parents’ frustration and overwhelm makes complete sense. With so many restrictions on where we can go and what we can do, the last thing any family wants is to think about setting limits on screen time.

Yet, all the unfortunate downsides of screen time for kids still exist. And what’s more, the kids now have even more non-negotiable screen time in their days thanks to remote learning.

So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Well, I’ll never fit in my size 6 jeans again, but I still don’t eat cake at every meal. In the same way, parents can be mindful about screen time during Corona without letting it rule their lives.

Here are three things that you can do:

Remember that not all screen time is created equal

There is a huge difference in brain activity for kids (and adults) when we play educational games versus scrolling, mindlessly, through social media platforms. So encourage your kids to consume high quality content in the forms of documentaries, informative educational videos, and interactive apps.

Create a list of preferred screen time options so that your kids know what content they can consume freely.

Encourage kids to engage with friends directly rather than through social media platforms, and even set up “virtual play dates” where kids can play “together” rather than just looking at each other through screens.

Finally, experiment with having family screen time in the form of movie nights or even video game sessions. Partaking in things that your kids enjoy can be a source of quality time together and bonding, even if those activities are electronic.

Be mindful in setting limits

Before you make any decisions about screen limits, engage in a familial experiment to illustrate why limits are important. If your kid are spending lots of time on their devices, check in with them. Observe their moods and attention spans. Draw their attention to the effects as well so that they, too, can be aware of how screens affect them.

Once you have gathered data, discuss as a family why it’s important to have healthy limits, and decide together what some reasonable limits might be.

When you are all on the same page about why limits are important, establish a time limit. Then, set a timer or parental control, and when the time is up, screen time is over.

Let your kids be bored

The number one reason that I see parents allowing their kids to stay on their screens is because they want to keep their kids occupied. And it’s true – screens are great babysitters. It is easy, and sometimes, it’s exactly what a parent needs.

There is certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, rather than fighting that, I suggest leaning into it. If you anticipate being busy or unavailable at some point in the day, plan to have your kids on their screens at that time. If you know that you’re too tired to engage meaningfully with the kids after work, save screen time for then.

But don’t just let them be on their screens because you don’t want them to be bored. Boredom is healthy. It is the birthplace of creativity, and suffering boredom helps kids to create a rich inner world.

Plus, I bet your kids have a million options when it comes to alleviating boredom. There are all the toys that they once NEEDED, books to be read, pictures to be drawn, and backyards to be explored.

There are the thousands of ways to entertain oneself that we all used to know before screens. Help to introduce your kids to those options by coming up with a “screen free” list of activities that kids can engage in when they are not on their devices.

By keeping your kids off their screens, even for a little bit, you offer them the opportunity to cultivate new skills and talents, even those as simple as entertaining themselves.

For more screen time tips and additional suggestions for managing family life in the time of COVID, check out the Remote School Survival Guide here:

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