The current pandemic has led to the creation of an abundance of resources for online learning. It has also ushered in a dilemma for parents over how to appropriately structure “screen time”. Technology is unquestionably the medium of this generation and technology can play a pivotal role in healthy development as a tool for learning, entertainment and communication. However, it can also be a source of distraction and a socially numbing activity if left unregulated, especially in teens and children. Parents are left with the unenviable task of creating and regulating a healthy home technology environment. I have included several useful tips that will help ease the burden of monitoring your child’s screen time.
- FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE RESEARCH
Fortunately, there is a growing body of credible research that is easily accessible on the internet. The key for parents is to gain a working knowledge about the positive and negative impacts of screen time, as well as identify best practices for navigating technology usage with young children. Find an online tutorial or TV news segment on healthy technology usage and have the entire family watch it together.
- SET THE BAR EARLY
Establishing early healthy guidelines and expectations regarding screen time with children will pay off down the road. Communicate that screen time is a privilege that is earned and screen time behavior is subject to review. Be clear and establish healthy family screen time routines and straightforward DOs and DONTs involving technology usage. Also, be sure to model positive practices in your own screen time behavior.
- EMPHASIZE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Avoid the trap of quibbling over minutes and hours of screen time and emphasize the identification of quality activities. While schoolwork is a given, identifying enriching activities such as communication with family members abroad, online chats with friends, and organizing virtual field trips to museums can help transform screen time into valuable growth opportunities. Be sure to build the screen time schedule around activities, not time periods.
- PROVIDE QUALITY DOWNTIME
Competing with video games and technology is not easy. It is especially difficult if you do not provide children with enjoyable alternatives. Mandate tech-free down periods in your home where your family spends time together engaging in fun activities such as board games, arts & crafts or group meal preparation. By providing enjoyable interaction-based alternate activities, you are reinforcing the intrinsic reward related to socialization and family.
- DO NOT VILLAINIZE TECHNOLOGY
Avoid the inherent tug of war associated with debating screen time with children and teens. Transform it by portraying it as a friendly tool that requires training and practice to utilize effectively. Emphasize the user, not the use, as the main focus. Teach kids to have a healthy respect for the medium and help educate them on the many advantages associated with healthy screen time usage, but also emphasize that it can never serve as a substitute for human interaction.
Finally, always remember that they are just innocent kids. Our job is to teach and nurture their development through both success and failure. We are their role models and exemplars for setting their life standards. Let your mantra as parents always remain—SMILES ARE FREE AND LOVE IS PRICELESS.