Before the global coronavirus pandemic came into play earlier this year, parents everywhere were guided by experts to set limits on their child’s screen time each day. However, in a rare twist of fate, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders meant that children and parents were left scrambling with no choice but to rely on virtual technology even more to attend work and school from home every day.
So, with a month of remote learning (in some districts two months) behind us now, what lessons about technology have we learned? Should parents and teachers now reevaluate students’ screen time for the remainder of distance learning?
Yes – and no. These are unique circumstances we’re living in and things that once were before the pandemic don’t necessarily apply now. However, this doesn’t mean that your child should sit on their phone or Xbox all day, either.
The key now is for families to balance screen time as distance learning marches forward. Here are some tips:
Set Screen Time Priorities
Until your family is physically back in school and at work, set screen time priorities in your home. If you haven’t already done so, it’s helpful to keep the same screen-time schedule for remote learning that you would during a normal school or workday. It’s a good idea to take a few 10-minute breaks and a lunch break to recharge and rest your eyes. Make sure that during these breaks your children (and you) step away completely from your screen to regroup.
In addition, screen time now is a priority for those looking to take an online fitness class, for those that have become sick and who need telemedicine or for those who want to order groceries online. Screen time is also now the only way most of us are staying in touch with friends and family outside of our immediate family. Children are utilizing Zoom and FaceTime, among others, to stay in touch with the outside world.
Set Non-Screen Time Priorities
Since screen time has increased across the board for most of us, it’s also important to set non-screen time priorities each day for yourself and children. When work and school is complete, it’s a good idea to get outside, in a socially acceptable manner, and enjoy the benefits that come along with fresh air and sunshine. Take a walk with your dog, play in the backyard or exercise outside. If you’re not outside, make it a priority to play a board game with your child, write a letter to a friend or play another game within or around your house that doesn’t involve screen time.
Screen Time for Fun
After your virtual work or school day is complete, and you’ve stepped outside for a while to recharge or exercise, you may be ready to hop back on the computer for some fun! Experts suggest that while your child may want to play Xbox, Fortnight or even watch TV shows or TicTok videos for fun, that this is the time to pay attention to. Part of the reason why limits on screen time exist is to give your brain a break.
“In instant gratification activities, such as social media, TV shows, and video games, dopamine is secreted non-stop. With ongoing dopamine release, the receiving neuron will eventually decrease its number of receptors for dopamine. This is because the body is always working to stay in homeostasis (balance). If your brain gets bombarded continuously by dopamine, you start to develop a tolerance to it — meaning the intensity of good feelings decreases…Sussman says that this can lead to a higher sense of boredom. Boredom is not a pleasant state.” - Clifford Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist for children and adolescents in Washington, DC
To decrease the constant dopamine buildup, which leads to boredom, try changing up the way you use screen time a bit when school is not in session. Think of it as a virtual vacation.
Consider logging on to watch a Broadway show, visit a zoo, or even a museum that you’ve always wanted to visit. During this pandemic, technology has opened up making virtual visits free in order to engage kids who are home now, away from friends and needing to fill their time.
Although screen time has increased now with more people at home than ever before, there are still ways to balance your time online with time away from it. Try categorizing your screen time priorities for school, work and fun while weaving in non-screen time activities. This will provide you and your family with a healthy balance to your days as we all continue to wait out this time at home.