As we settle into the new normal, many parents are learning that their regular family schedules won’t be returning for the foreseeable future. Many schools are still figuring out how and when to welcome students back, so it’ll be up to us to entertain and educate our children for time being—and many of us are relying heavily on technology to get through the day. For families with small children, this can lead to increased anxiety around screen time and tricky technology-related negotiations. Before the pandemic, many parents had questions about screen time and concerns about how it might be affecting young minds—and those haven’t gone away.
While setting screen time rules (and sticking to them) can be challenging at the best of times, one way to make the process easier is to enroll your kids in the conversation. Talking to them about new expectations, listening to their perspectives and agreeing to a plan as a family can go along way towards making technology a less contentious issue during quarantine. Below are 10 conversations that will make managing screen time during COVID-19 a little bit easier.
Screens are fun, educational and exciting—and they’re also a privilege
Even during social distancing, screen time isn’t a right. When kids understand from the beginning that you control the devices they use, it’ll hopefully help quell any screen time meltdowns. They should know that you are the parent, and that means you have the final say over if, when and how long they can use tech for. The cybersecurity experts and educators at The White Hatter have a helpful Family Collective Agreement that you can download and sign with your kids—just so everyone is on the same page.
Screen time still happens in moderation
While kids’ screen time might be higher than normal right now, make sure kids know that this isn’t a free pass to be online all day. According to the World Health Organization, kids need to “sit less and play more” to grow up healthy. While screen time in and of itself is not necessarily a health risk for kids, a sedentary lifestyle is. So, it’s important for kids to understand that they will still have a balance of other activities in their lives—like playing outside, helping around the house or board games with the family. Here are some helpful ways parents can help their kids strike that all-important balance.
Not all screen time is created equal
There are four types of activities kids can do online: consume, connect, create and learn, and it’s important to have a conversation with your kid about what kinds of activities are constructive online. Connecting with loved ones, creating art, building apps and learning about new topics online can be active and positive for kids—and it’s a great way to keep them occupied during long days at home. But, scrolling social media and watching YouTube are less productive activities. While it’s fun to watch the occasional video, make sure your kids know that their screen time should prioritize connection, creativity and learning.
Tech will be totally off-limits sometimes
You might be relaxing screen time rules a bit, so it’s a good idea to sit down with your kids to clearly set expectations around when and where it’s acceptable to use screens. Maybe your kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms are screen-free zones—and maybe no one uses tech during dinner or after 7pm. If you’re deciding on new rules as a family, make sure everyone is on the same page. The Family Collective Agreement linked above has a handy section dedicated house rules. It’s a great starting point, and you can adjust them based on your family’s situation.
Privacy is earned
You are the parent, so having a conversation around privacy is crucial, especially as your kids move most of their socializing online. Make sure they know that you will be checking in on their screen activities, just like you do in other areas of their life. Whether you install monitoring software like Boomerang or Netsanity (both recommended by The White Hatter) or opt for random check-ins with your kids, it’s important that they understand that you can and will have a say in their online lives. And, as they prove themselves to be good digital citizens, they will earn your trust—and therefore more independence.
The internet is permanent
More time online means more opportunities to create and share content. But, it’s no secret that universities and employers google prospective candidates before offering them a scholarship or job—and if they see something they don’t like on your kid’s profile, opportunities will pass them by. Make sure your children know that everything they post online is permanent, including on platforms like Snapchat where content supposedly disappears. Ask them to think about what a future boss might think about a picture or tweet before hitting send because a thoughtless post could end up haunting them.
They can always come to you if they run into trouble online
Hopefully, your kids don’t find any trouble on the internet—but if they do, they need to feel comfortable coming to you with their problems and concerns. Tell them that, no matter what, you’ll do your best to keep a cool head and respond reasonably if they find themselves in trouble. Rather than taking a device away, try to turn tough moments into teachable moments. And, if you need any tips on how to talk to your kid when they run into something inappropriate online, here are some helpful tips.
Household rules apply to screen time as well, including the golden rule
You have expectations for how your kid behaves—and it’s important they understand that the rules haven’t changed just because of quarantine. Make sure kids know that they are expected to treat others with respect whether they’re interacting in person or via technology. And, remind them to bring empathy to every situation online.
Some of their friends will have different rules (or no rules at all)
Let’s face it: every parent has a different approach and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for quarantine screen time. It can be helpful to acknowledge this with your kids when you’re outlining your screen time rules. Let them know that you know some of their friends will have a different set of rules (or maybe none at all), but that doesn’t change anything for them. Talk to them ahead of time if they’re having a digital play date and remind them what your family rules are. Just because one of their friends gets to use Whisper to share secrets online doesn’t mean they’re allowed to.
You want to learn from them!
Make sure your kids know that you’re invested in learning about tech with them. If they want to play a new game, try a new app or explore a new interest while they’re at home, test it together first. Not only will you be learning something new in the process, you’ll also be spending some quality time with your kids. And the added bonus is that you’ll feel more confident knowing exactly what your kids are doing when they’re spending time with screens.
When it comes to screen time during COVID-19, every family will have a different approach, and what works for one kid might not work for another. In any case, having an open (and ongoing!) conversation with your kids will help eliminate any ambiguity—and hopefully, make tech a bit less contentious during this time.
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