Please welcome Alexandra Eidens to Happy Healthy Mama today, sharing her thoughts on kids and screen time during COVID-19.
I’ve been concerned about my kids’ screen time since well before the current pandemic, when Meghan was a toddler and I noticed just how captivating the screen was to her. I wondered what effect too much screen time would have on the important brain development that was going on. It’s not a worry that went away when Luke came along and as they’ve grown I’ve tried my best to limit their screen time. It’s even more difficult now that we are experiencing COVID-19 and stuck at home more than ever.
Alexandra is the founder of Big Life Journal, a resource I discovered a few years ago. I enjoy and have used her printable resources relating to developing a growth mindset, and gave Meghan this Big Life Journal for Christmas when she was 10 and it’s outstanding. I hope you enjoy Alexandra’s post today!
How to Help Kids Balance Screen Time and Healthy Play During COVID-19
As parents, we know the warnings of the effects of too much screen-time for children even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed the rules and made what used to have a clear boundary now difficult to navigate. It is undeniable that letting our kids have some screen time, so we can attend a meeting or finish a proposal uninterrupted is also important.
How Does Screen Time Affect Children?
Any sustained amount of screen time has negative effects on child brain development. Because watching TV is passive, the brain doesn’t work to make connections the same way it does when children are directly interacting with people and things.
According to The Center for Parenting Education, watching TV – or screens of any kind– can result in decreased attention spans, delayed speech development, hyperactivity, insensitivity, and possibly increased risk of obesity.
Perhaps not all television programming is bad, but indeed less screen time is more. If you’re ready to cut back on your child’s screen time, here are some ideas that can help make the transition easier.
Keep Playing With Your Kids
Part of what makes kids’ screen time compelling for parents is it takes their attention. If you’re cutting back on screens, then you need to be ready to give your children more of your time.
Playing interactive games, like board games, with your kids, is a great way to start. If COVID and winter have us returning to hibernation, then having some great board games on hand will help keep away some of the blues. Plus, the conversation that develops with your children from playing the game can give you more insight into their personality and thinking.
Including children in your day-to-day chores is also a good way of engaging them in non-screen activities. Kids love to help and feel useful. Letting them help prep for dinner or fold the laundry tells them they are a valuable part of the team. The trick is to make sure you let them actually do the work. No, it won’t be perfect, but no one is going to see that your carrot pieces aren’t the same width anyway.
Just Say No
Your kids are going to ask for screens. That’s ok. You just have to say “no.” Even then, they’re probably going to push back a little. That’s ok too. Just make it clear that you mean it.
According to Amy Morin, LCSW, the way you refuse a request is necessary. The more pointed and clear you are about your refusal, the easier it is for children to accept your decision. Here are some printables for kids that help with gentle and clear ways to say “no.”
When you decide what your screen time boundary is, stick to it. Fully understand your reason behind your limitation and know that you reinforce your child’s position each time you keep to your decision. Eventually, he will ask for television or devices less or will accept your refusal more easily.
Let Them Be Bored
Kids get bored. They want to have something to do all the time. When they don’t have something to do, they often want their parents to solve the problem.
What if it isn’t a problem, though? What if being bored is actually good for kids?
According to an article by Denise Hill, children develop more than being over-stimulated does. When children have unstructured time, they become creative, learn who they are, and try new things.
To help your children find productive ways of filling their time, build some designated “free play” spaces in your home. If you can have play spaces outside, the added benefits of nature play are countless.
Get Their Input Early
When you’ve decided on your technology policy, make sure you give your children plenty of warning. Even better, let them “help” you establish how you’ll implement the policy.
Children having a say and fully understanding the expectations and consequences gives them “buy-in.” These printables for kids outline how to get input from your kids productively. Giving children a role this way helps them see that you have real reasons behind your decisions. It’s not an arbitrary “for today” rule.
Avoid Screen Time Before Bed
If (when) you’re going to let your child use screens avoid letting that time happen before bed.
Blue light from screens stimulates adults’ eyes and brains. Studies show that the effect may be amplified in children. These effects include later bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep, and even less quality sleep.
Considering how important sleep, quality sleep, is for children, it makes it even more critical to regulating when they turn off their screens for the day. Experts say children should have at least an hour of no blue light before they go to bed.
Create Technology-Tree Zones
Another simple way to help limit screen time is to implement technology-free zones. These are areas in your home where your children don’t have access to screens.
Some top contenders to be technology-free are bedrooms, kitchens and dining rooms, and any area where the more interactive play can happen easily.
When you limit where children can have screens and tv, it can make it easier to limit because moving to a new room signals screen-time is over. Use printables for kids to designate the zones.
Cutting screens out of your children’s lives all together may be extreme, but cutting screen time back wouldn’t hurt. Whatever way you establish technology limits, make sure they are clear, and you hold to them. When children push back, reiterate the limits and boundaries calmly. Please don’t feel as though you need to engineer all of their fun, but give them safe ways to explore their creativity and develop their fun.
Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.