How do you cut down a child’s screen time (and your own) in a post-pandemic world as things slowly return to “normal”?
There is legitimate cause for concern. The move to online school combined with parents’ need to occupy their children while they work from home has led to staggering increases in the use of devices among children. According to Statista, the number of children that spend four or more hours daily using electronic devices has jumped from 23% to 44%. Kids ages 5-17 years old showed the most significant spikes in usage.
While this is not totally unexpected because of the increased necessity for online activity with both school and socializing, it begs the question: How can kids and parents recreate a healthy balance with screen time as we move out of the pandemic?
Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal
What many parents have learned through this pandemic is that not all screen time is bad. According to Axios, the majority of parents (62%) now see how devices can be used as educational tools. As families transition back to less online activity, it’s important to note and classify device use. For instance, most parents view their children listening to music or podcasts differently than viewing videos or playing games. Helping kids be more discerning about what they’re utilizing devices for can help parents navigate the transition back to less screen time.
“I think it is vitally important to help children—at any age distinguish between screen time for education/learning and screen time just for fun,” Gloria DeGaetano, Founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute and author of Parenting Well in a Media Age tells Parentology. “We all like to veg out once in a while, —with mindless entertainment that gives our brains a rest. For instance, watching a great movie together on a Friday night as a family can be an intentional restorative practice from the stresses of the week.”
According to DeGaetano, verbally stating the purpose of the viewing experience can help kids understand that we use screens for various reasons.
How to Cut Down a Child’s Screen Time
As kids return to in-person school some daily screen time usage should decrease. However, social media apps like TikTok and Instagram along with entertainment apps like YouTube and Netflix will most likely still be heavily used. The key is to talk to children about the “how” and “why” of their device use.
DeGaetano suggests talking to kids about how to understand and prioritize the use of their devices and encourages parents to lead by example.
“If we intentionally note the reason we use our screen—’I need to text my boss. I will be with you in 3 minutes.’ Or, ‘I love this app because it challenges my spatial abilities.’ Or ‘I find myself searching social media to connect with something familiar when I’m worried.’ — that shows kids that they can do the same,” she explains. “We can ask them specific questions to that effect and put screens in their proper place—as a tool we choose to use in various ways for various purposes. There’s then no need to demonize screens or fear them when we help our kids use them intentionally in age-appropriate ways for both learning and for fun.”
While this will be another transition for many kids and parents, the key is patience and communication. Parents cannot expect kids to cut their device use in half overnight, but it is important that they lay the groundwork for sensible boundaries.
DeGaetano cautions that those boundaries are not only for protecting kids from online content but to ensure their development. “I want parents to understand the critical nature of brain development—the absolute necessity of physical movement and play in 3-D reality,” she says. She suggests the following:
- No screens for babies and toddlers.
- 20 minutes daily for a 3-year-old.
- 1 hour is enough for 4-5 year-olds.
For older children, “If they have more time for screen Zoom learning, then it’s vitally important parents find other means to help the child learn and explore in 3-D reality when Zoom time is over,” DeGaetano says. “Brains need bodies that move. Get children moving. Their brains will respond and grow accordingly.”