I’ve got a question for you. How much time have you spent looking at a screen in the past week compared to this time last month?
Many of us are confined to home, with children doing e-learning. Virtual communication is becoming a replacement for face-to-face connections as we social distance. Do you worry about increased screen time? What happens when social distancing is finally over? Will we (and especially our kids) be even more addicted to our devices? As parents we may have a love-hate relationship with our kids’ electronics anyway, so let’s look at some ways to address our current and future digital well-being.
Make a Plan
We all need to use our electronics. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt that thoughtful use won’t just happen. Sit down and think about how much time you and your children need to spend on your devices and for what. E-learning will obviously come first for the kids, while working from home may be your priority. Going cold turkey once that is done may not work for you, but placing limits is wise. How much time should your kids be allowed to visit virtually with friends? To text? To watch TV? And when? It’s not unreasonable to actually draw up a schedule including these activities. You can still be flexible with it when needed, but having a schedule that you mostly stick to is the best place to start.
Don’t be afraid to explain to your family why you are setting limits. This will depend on the age of your children. Tell your older children what you are trying to accomplish and why it is an issue right now. Teenagers may actually realize the difference in how they feel with too much screen time versus less, although you may get some push back at first. Smaller children may need less explanation, but knowing too much time on their devices isn’t good for them will help them limit their time. You know your family best, so use your judgment in what you say.
This is probably one of the hardest things to do. As Americans, we are used to TVs in every bedroom, phones in every pocket, and devices at the dinner table. I’m not going to tell you to lock up all your electronics, but this might be a great time to take a breath and re-assess. Could your kids unplug their bedroom TVs for the week and see how they do? Make the rule that there are no phones at the table? You might be surprised at how well it goes.
Use the Features Available on your Devices
Set the timer on your phone or iPad. Investigate the parental controls on your kids’ devices. There are some ingenious ways to remind and even make limiting fun (or at least less painful).
Use Electronics Creatively
Do utilize the digital world actively rather than passively. Why don’t you video-conference or video call while social distancing? This is especially timely with children being separated from grandparents right now. Or host a virtual play date or game night.
You can also make use of video games or online sites for indoor physical activity, especially on bad weather days. Get up and move with your WII or other game system. Find a dance video on YouTube.
Set a Good Example
Finally, it really is true that kids will follow what you do more than what you say. If you are checking your Facebook feed constantly they may not do the same (I hear Facebook is definitely not cool with teenagers any more). But they will have no reason to put down their Tik Tok or Instagram. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to engage them in family activities. And when our social distancing finally ends they could find they enjoy them so much they want to continue.