During this COVID19 pandemic, screen time and digital devices use has increased greatly for children as they have been required to go online to complete their school studies. Many parents were also required to work from home, if they weren’t already doing this, and screens became an easily accessible babysitter to keep children occupied while mom and dad managed their employment duties.
School ended in June, overnight and some day camps are still not open, public parks and swimming pools are operating in limited numbers, and organized sports are still on hold. More money is being spent on backyard landscaping and improvements, and sales for trampolines, swimming pools, and play sets are at an all time high. Deck building has increased to the point of scarcity in wood supplies. Clearly, more time is being spent playing outdoors and that is one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic.
Families are also spending more time together inside their homes and entertaining their children in creative means has become even more important. Parents and children do need small breaks to keep their own mental health in check. Spending every waking minute with each other is a large task to ask. Those digital screens become an easy source for entertainment. And in regulated doses of time, they can be a healthy outlet. But more than one or two hours of screen time a day can lead to more unhealthy dependence.
Be sure to have a personal computer and game console in a central location in your home so children can be closely supervised. Handheld digital devices should also be encouraged to be used where a parent can monitor use. Children need proper sleep, so I suggest no cell phones or tablets in bedrooms at night.
Playing video games and scrolling through social media should not be a limitless activity for kids. It’s easy to get sucked into the virtual world and these systems are designed to be immersive and addictive. It’s important to teach your child how to regulate their time and make it a small part of their day as opposed to their entire day.
Reading books, of course is an obvious alternative, but not all children enjoy reading for pleasure. There are some great podcasts for children and teens, and they can listen to these while sitting still, doing a creative activity, or taking a walk. And podcasts are great to listen to as a family while on a summer road trip. Here are two links with podcast that your kids may enjoy:
For kids who love playing one player or multi-player video games, they will often be attracted by the theme of the game. Are they creating an avatar and battling to take the world by storm, or are they creating an amusement park or a magical forest? Rather than have the images on the screen lead their imagination, ask your child or children to recreate their own stage production of the theme in their games, and provide you with a live performance at the end of the day or week.
Household chores should be a typical part of a family’s dynamics. It teaches children to collaborate and work together for a common cause. Create a list of chores that help the child learn independence and self care, like making their bed, putting away their clean laundry, and tidying up their area in the bathroom. And also have a list of chores that helps the family function with more ease, like some meal prep, setting the table, filling or emptying the dishwasher, dusting, and vacuuming.
Play video games with your child sometimes. Screen time should not be a solitary, secret space your child never shares with you. And balance this by also making time to play family board and card games. You will learn many key factors about your child based on the types of games they enjoy playing and the characters they enjoy building within these games. Is our child highly competitive and goal oriented? Does your child prefer to work within a team and enjoys cooperative play? Does your child prefer one player, solitary games or are they more social and engage in multi-player games? Talk with your child and ask how they problem solve or what they love most about a certain game. Become an ally, not an enemy about their virtual world. They will be more likely to turn to you if an issue crops up in their online community that they need to talk about. You may help them to feel more safe and secure in the game.
And of course, encourage outdoor play as much as possible. Summer school break is just a couple months and the weather is more conducive for being outside. All that fresh air, exercise, and vitamin D will help boost your child’s immunity, which is so important before they eventually head back inside to a classroom with other children.