12 tips from the experts for managing screen time for kids K – 8 during the pandemic
By Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development
As parents continue to navigate the unexpected challenges of raising kids amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, Children and Screens is working with top experts in the fields of parenting, education, and child psychology to bring you a series of helpful hints and common-sense suggestions. Last month, we polled our experts about their top tips for toddlers and held an interactive webinar with more than 520 registrants to discuss that age group. This week, we’re proud to share 12 new advice geared towards parents of school-age children.
Read on for details, and be sure to tune in to the next installment of Children and Screens “Ask The Experts” interactive webinar series this coming Wednesday, May 6th, at noon EDT, when an esteemed panel of experts will talk about managing healthy screen use for K-8 kids and answer your questions via Zoom. RSVP here. Moderated by Colleen Kraft, renowned pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and past-president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
FIND THE SILVER LINING
Remember that a key part of resilience is trading the efficiency of school and work for connection with your child. You are in this together as a family, and you have everyone’s creativity to explore this new space. Use this time to create new rituals and new reminders of the joy in being a family! – Colleen Kraft, MD
CREATE SCREEN-FREE ZONES
As a family, agree on some times and places during the day when you will just be together, without the disruption of checking your screen. Meals, bedtime, game time, and walks around the block are all good times to stash your device and be fully present with each other and with the moment. With so much of life happening on screens, we need to protect quality time and places where we can simply connect with ourselves and each other, without digital distraction. – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Clinical and Consulting Psychologist, Cambridge MA
PICK AND CHOOSE
While structure is important, worried children may benefit from daily “choices” to help them feel like they can still maintain some sense of control (especially when everything around them seems chaotic)! For instance, when school is over for the day, tell them it’s time to play a game, but they can choose which one. If butting heads, try to offer them one of two options. – Meredith Gansner, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Cambridge Health Alliance
PRIORITIZE AND ORGANIZE
If you’re a parent who’s working virtually from home, be sure to set realistic goals and create a schedule to match your workday. Recognize what meetings you need to “attend,” and what may be less important. If you have asynchronous work to complete, prioritize the most important deliverables, and help your children to do the same. Some teachers have virtual lessons that would be helpful for your children. Some teachers have pre-recorded lessons that you and your child can view at a time that works for both of you. If this doesn’t work, use resources such as Khan Academy to help out! – Colleen Kraft, MD
HOW CAN I HELP?
Ask your children to come up with ways that they can help each other (and you). If they can’t think of anything, suggest ideas like “help each other not be bored,” or “help each other with schoolwork.” Post their “Helping Ideas” on the fridge and come up with new ideas every few days, or even every day. – Elizabeth K. Englander, PhD Director, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University
WALK IT OUT
Schedule breaks that involve physical activity and fresh air. Go for a walk, bounce a ball, skip rope, play hopscotch; the possibilities are endless when it comes to having fun and connecting with your child. Just make sure to follow all current social distancing guidelines any time you leave the house. – Colleen Kraft, MD
MIX IT UP
Treat your child’s mind with respect and kindness by mixing up the day with activities that’ll challenge different parts of their brain (e.g. reading versus math). Monitor your kids for signs of fatigue, increased irritability, distractibility, and fidgeting, and take breaks for physical activity when necessary. Oftentimes, screen use only stimulates the visual and auditory part of the brain, which means senses like smell, touch, taste, and temperature are not being adequately stimulated. What the brain doesn’t use winds up growing less developed, so varied activities and challenges will help your child develop all of their senses. – Martin P. Paulus M.D. Scientific Director and President, Laureate Institute for Brain Research
LISTEN WITH YOUR EYES
Non-verbal behavioral cues (such as a shrug of the shoulders or a furrowing of the brow) can provide helpful information about a child’s understanding of the content being shared with them. The same holds true even for online instruction. In the course of a lesson occurring in real time, make sure that your child presents both verbal and non-verbal cues to let the teacher know what may or may not be understood about a given concept, lesson, or assignment. – Fran C. Blumberg, Professor Division of Psychological & Educational Services, Fordham University
MAKE DISTANCE SOCIAL
Embrace the opportunity to be social with distant friends and family. It can be difficult to connect with loved ones in other parts of the world during busy days at school and work, but consider the current situation an opportunity to connect/reconnect via video teleconferencing mediums. It can also be made into a fun, stress-free social studies “class” with your kids as they learn about other places, customs, and cultures. – Kara Bagot, MD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Psychiatry
DO YOUR BEST
Off-screen activities are great, but you won’t always have the mental capacity to support non-screen tasks, and that’s totally fine. Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things… my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” By social distancing, your family is helping. And if that means you need to let your kids have a little extra television time in the midst of a crisis, that’s okay. Just be sure to find media you trust and keep an eye on what your kids are watching. – Dr. Jessica Piotrowski, Director, Center for research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media, University of Amsterdam
IT’S OK TO BE BORED!
The next time your child complains to you about being bored, resist the urge to put a screen in front of them. Instead, let them sit with their boredom. It may make you both a bit uncomfortable at first, but it turns out that our brains are doing important work when we’re not actively engaged in a specific task. Neuroscientists call this the default mode of brain functioning, and it’s linked to a whole bunch of important skills, including self-awareness and empathy. So, instead of dreaming up another enriching activity to engage your children, let them get bored. Their developing brains will thank you. – Martin P. Paulus M.D. Scientific Director and President, Laureate Institute for Brain Research
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Capitalizing on the ways in which digital technology can promote healthy activities can be fun for both parents and their children while staying at home. Turn on your streaming music service and have a dance party with your kids, or go old school with a Wii Fit for solo or team exercise and competition. There are also a variety of free and subscription-based apps that have family fitness content to provide fun and engaging ways to interact and exercise as a family. – Kara Bagot, MD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Psychiatry
As kids develop, experts recommend giving them more responsibility and autonomy, while at the same time keeping a close eye on their development and progress. It can be a challenging balance to strike, but hopefully these tips will help you and your kids find a safe, healthy, and happy middle ground as you grow and learn together. For more tips, and to have your questions answered by experts, don’t forget to register for our virtual workshop here.
About Children and Screens
Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501C(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra. Children and Screens advances interdisciplinary research, supports human capital in the field, informs and educates the public, and advocates for sound public policy for child health and wellness.