The fights. Negotiations. Meltdowns. You have entered the screen zone at home.
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to parents. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between education and entertainment, between online literacy and cyberbullying, and it lies between the pit of parent’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”
You have now crossed over into…the Screen Zone.
Families with screen access know a considerable amount of time has been spent in this zone. The screen has also been the teacher, companion, and for this summer, possibly camp leader. Parent guilt is pervasive.
Some concerns that parents have is excessive screen time physically harms children, watching several screens at one time reinforces inattention, or children are wasting time when they should be doing schoolwork.
The reality is that children’s need to connect with friends is high during this time of learning-at-home, eat-at-home and no-friends-allowed-at-home. Educators and child development professionals are gaining an appreciation of how much children enjoy being social. Technology provides a stopgap measure for in-person bonding that kids currently lack: sharing with one another, video-chatting, playing games, having online playdates, birthday celebrations, and more.
In addition, there is some extraordinary children’s programming online right now: children’s authors and illustrators are sharing their craft, publishers are stepping up educational content, children’s organizations are offering curriculums at no cost, and more.
Michael Robb, Research Director at Common Sense Media offers parents some relief with a new approach to screen time. When looking at device usage, drop the worry about minutes and examine content quality and context instead:
…does it generate curiosity, imagination, or critical thinking?
…is the objective education or entertainment?
…does it enable conversation with friends, family, and classmates?
…will it be discussed with family members or a teacher?
As long as screens are not at the expense of in-person contact (and conversational opportunity), outdoor time, doing chores, and helping others, what kids do on screens and how they do it is more important than how long they are on devices. Consider other tips from leading children’s experts:
Eliminate the guilt Let go of the struggle around screen minutes; there are more critical things worth our energy at the moment.
Screens are not all good or all bad Content can be educational, entertaining, or a blend. Explore ways to transform fun into learning opportunities. Focus on age-appropriate, high quality programming. See Common Sense Media reviews for content evaluation.
Be creative Challenge kids with a photo or video project to play with editing tools; give them a prompt to make a media story, virtual music performance or dance routine. Or use the content to launch offline activities to extend learning.
Use the electronic domain to dote on your kids Shower them with the attention and connection they presently crave. Share and collaborate, play and explore, make and imagine together.
Engage kids in conversations Ask questions that invite them to tell you about what they’re viewing and games they’re playing. Bonus: similar to a book club discussion, it will help reinforce elements of storytelling, fuel critical thinking skills, and perhaps grant an opportunity to talk about social-emotional skills.
Establish “guardrails” beyond prohibiting inappropriate content, say “no” to screens within an hour of bedtime, charge devices in central living areas and keep screens out of the bedroom overnight to avoid tempatation of new text pings.
Balance is key Establish time for exercise sessions, outdoor activities, social time with friends and family, and healthy sleep habits.
This is not the time for denying kids a pleasurable activity. Media literacy and web skills are a necessity in today’s world and research has proven that technology has positive outcomes when used effectively. If you can create a healthy balance and a happy family, your parenting is commendable!
Damour, Dr. Lisa & Natterson, Dr. Cara. (2020, May 20). Conversations with Common Sense: Making Room for Uncomfortable Emotions. Common Sense Media [webinar]
Robb, Micheal. (2020, April 7). Screen time in the age of the coronavirus. Common Sense Media [website article]
Baldonado, Ann Marie. Screentime, Scribble Time, Space-Out Time. Parent Trapped. Common Sense Media [podcast]