As we live under stay-at-home orders during a global pandemic, the allure of the screen has never been more apparent. Screens can be great tools to help manage all the simultaneous responsibilities that now confront us—however, excess screen time can have a negative impact on students’ attention and social-emotional functioning, as well as their ability to sleep at night.
Therefore, it is more important than ever to be patient with our children and ourselves, to understand that our standards may need to temporarily shift, and to distinguish between “meaningful” and recreational screen time.
New boundaries: Our typical expectations about screen usage are likely well known to both us and our children. However, we now need to be flexible and willing to shift these expectations, with limits likely to increase. Accepting these new rules as temporary makes it easier to put this in perspective. Also, if your children enjoy TV or watching a video on an iPad for entertainment, it’s ok to still use that as a motivator. Although our children are now on screens for much of their academic day, this time is spent on topics and content that they may not consider “fun.” Have them work toward iPad time or an episode of their favorite show—whether it’s a reward for behavior, helping around the house, or working through a challenging assignment .
Encourage other activities: We have extensively discussed the importance of being physically active, and for good reason! After a long day, they may want to sit on the couch with the iPad, but encouraging them to get outside will do wonders for their physical and mental well being. If they are complaining of not knowing what to do with this unstructured outdoor time, brainstorm a few ideas together— and watch how quickly you will see the positive benefits of fresh air and physical activity on their behavior, attitude, and sleep.
Find the positives: In order to feel more comfortable with the increased time our children are facing in front of a screen, let’s look at the positive skills they are gaining. Aside from the obvious technology skills students are honing, it also takes a great degree of executive functioning to plan, attend, and prioritize throughout live lessons. These skills are at a crucial stage of development during the early elementary years and our students are practicing them every day in a unique way that will benefit their growth after we return to in-school instruction.
This too shall pass: Lastly, through all of this, try to remember that this is temporary. Once normal schedules have resumed, you will re-establish family rules and expectations around screen time. Although you may receive slight resistance at first, children are adaptable, and they will adjust to the reinstated rules more quickly than you may expect.