By Tracey Dowdy
While some school districts have opted or moved to in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year, others have chosen to go virtual or have been forced to backtrack, scrapping plans to be in the classroom.
For years, parents have wrestled with “how much is too much” when it comes to screen time, but there’s nothing like a global pandemic and forced quarantining to toss those guidelines out the window. Our screens have not only been tools for virtual learning, but they’ve also kept us connected to friends and family, a welcome de-stressor, and a source of distraction.
While the balancing act of managing screen time may seem pointless right now, there are steps you can set to help set reasonable boundaries for both you and your children. Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, suggests parents label the day’s activities for what they are. “When you have a common vocabulary for their daily activities, such as ‘playtime,’ ‘work time,’ ‘friend time,’ ‘family time,’ and ‘downtime,’ you can communicate a lot more clearly – and honestly – about what your kid is doing, what they should be doing, and what they want to be doing. This reframes the ‘screen time’ conversation into which elements make up a healthy life — one that balances learning with play, exercise with relaxation, and responsibilities with social time.”
Start by creating a Family Technology Contract to set everyone up for success instead of frustration and tears. It’s going to look different in this season rather than what it would have looked like this time last year, but by establishing reasonable boundaries you both agree on, you can guide them to set their targets for the day. For example, if they want to hop online and play Fortnite with friends after dinner, ask them, “How much time do you need for homework? Two hours? Okay, then you need to start now so you’ll be done in time to play.” By including them in the discussion, you’ve made them accountable for their choices and help them to understand the importance of setting priorities to accomplish their goals.
Set aside no-tech times or locations within your home. Now that school is online – even if you’re in-person, some learning elements are internet-based – if you aren’t intentional, it’s easy for technology to take over every aspect of your home life. Set boundaries like no devices at the dinner table, time limits for gaming or streaming entertainment, and remember to set parental controls.
Interestingly, for years we’ve been wary of building relationships over social media, yet in 2020 those online relationships have been a lifeline for students who desperately miss their friends. Yet, those same risks – bullying, online predators, and risky behaviors – are still reasons to monitor their online activity. There are plenty of resources to help you safeguard your children and give you peace of mind.
Above all, set a good example. Your children may do what you say now, but long term, they’ll do what you do. Put your devices aside and go play. Build Legos, play in the leaves in the backyard, kick a soccer ball around, or have them teach you the latest TikTok dance craze. Create together – bake some cookies, paint, play with Play-Doh, or have puzzle races and see who can put theirs together the fastest. In a season when we’re immersed in technology, it’s essential to teach your children to value human connection and real-world relationships, and there’s none more important than family.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.