It’s a lot harder to build relationships when everyone is buried in their phones. Even though families are spending more time together than ever due to COVID-19, it can be just as difficult to connect to one another because technology has taken over. Parents, we know that cell phones and laptops are an easy and sometimes much-needed escape, and even if we didn’t want to use them so much ourselves, the new work-from-home routine leaves us no choice. After a long day of virtual homeschooling, sometimes learning tablets and video games can keep the kids busy and give us a break. We know that technology isn’t just a bad thing! But if you’re feeling the tech takeover creep in and you want to keep it to a healthy pace, we’ve got you covered.
Being at work (thanks for WFH) with mom and dad provides many more opportunities for screen time for the kids – you can only be spread so thin! Before you jump to banishing tech time, we have to take it for what it is today, not what it was pre-pandemic. Currently, about 70% of the world’s students are doing their learning online. Our tablets and laptops are now the classroom, the show and tell, the visits with grandparents, and the virtual playdates. Screen time is an important and new part of our children’s lives. They are our windows out; TV is once again a central part of entertainment for us and our kids. Even video games, which get a pretty bad rep, are now our children’s playgrounds. All of this to say that screen time today is not what it used to be – it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be used to build relationships and develop emotional skills with people outside of the house, even when travel restrictions are in place.
Tips for Managing (not eliminating) Screen Time
- Be Flexible: Technology is engrained in almost every aspect of our lives now. With COVID-19, we have had to make compromises on almost everything, and the same is true of tech time. Allow yourself and your kids to spend a little more time using their devices than usual. In some cases, cutting them out cold turkey can be even more isolating for your child. The important thing is to interact with your children in meaningful ways when the tablet is down.
- Lead the Way: Like with all things in life, you are the guiding light for children and their tech time is no different. If you want your children to cut down on screen time, do it with them! If they put down their devices and you are still glued to yours, they’ll be even more alone. Try designating phone-free times throughout the day to give yourself a mental break and connect with your little ones.
- Share a Meal: You should have at least one device-free meal time every day. Meals aren’t always easy, trust us, we know, but they can be a time for connection and relaxation together. Reserve some time throughout the day to sit facing each other and wind down together over a meal.
- Watch Together: Children are building a world of their own in their devices, it is inevitable. They may have favorite TV shows or watch Youtubers that you’ve never even heard of. By watching with them, you can get a better idea of exactly what they’re seeing online while still connecting with them over their favorite shows. It also presents opportunities to bond and to reinforce what they’re learning through your own personal stories. Mission I’m Possible, a free HAPPÉ Program aimed to help children develop emotional skills, creates a “top secret” world for parents and children to play in. Parents can help their children to complete each week’s challenge and create a shared secret while they sharpen their cognitive skills.
- Be Selective: Not everything on their tablets is bad! Since they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, try to be selective on what they can do with their tech time. Maybe they are allowed to FaceTime their friends for 30 minutes, watch a certain amount of episodes of their favorite program, or play coding or spelling games. Try to be as involved as you can into what they are watching and engaging with.
- Break It Up: Micro lessons are powerful in physical and virtual classrooms. Screen time can leave kids feeling drained too, especially virtual learning, so try to get them up and moving with you in between lessons. Try going for a walk, doing stretches together, practicing meditation or quiet time, or playing a quick game together to help them stay engaged through their virtual learning. HAPPɒs Mission I’m Possible starts out with an instructional video but encourages you to engage with the people and the world around you. It can be a wonderful opportunity to play together and leverage the influence of technology while still tuning in to the people and world around us.
- Create a Routine: Routines do not have to be a thing of the past! Personally, when my day is absorbed by a screen, I need something to signal my brain and tell it “Ok, this is no longer the home office, this is home.” This could look like a walk around the block at the end of the school or work day, a game, a quick bath or shower, or a snack. Otherwise, it’s much easier for us and our kids to stay in the rabbit hole of watching TV shows or leveling up.
- Separate Screen Time and Bedtime: Bedtime always feels like a mad dash to get everything done, and screens do not prepare young minds to wind down – they do the opposite. They remove any element of routine and keep the brain alert and active right up to bedtime. It even makes our quality of sleep worse. Try to leave 30 minutes to an hour of screen-free play before bedtime or your night time routine.
The most important thing to remember with tech time and COVID-19 is that they can both be opportunities for us to develop emotional skills and build relationships with one another. The second most important thing is to remember that this will pass. Give yourself some empathy and credit for managing this long, despite an unfamiliar and constantly changing world. Screen time, though it used to seem like a threat, can provide opportunities for our children to build relationships with their friends, classmates, and family members even if it’s by way of playing games or sending emojis.