When the pandemic first started, most parents believed that the interruption to our daily lives would be temporary. Similar to many parents I know, I’ve always tried to balance the amount of time my kids spend on screens. As the founder of an education technology startup that focuses on teaching kids to code and build with technology, I do believe there is a balance to be struck between productive and unproductive activities that can happen on screens. And, I can’t deny that it has been awesome to see them get into closer contact with their cousins who live in different states and their friends who live close by but they are unable to see.
Over the past several weeks, it has been clear that previously established limits need to be re-established for their long term benefit. Since there isn’t reasonable insight into when our lives will return to normal, it makes sense to set boundaries while recognizing that their lives have changed due to events that are completely outside their control.
For many kids, digital interaction and engagement is one of the safest ways that they can engage with their friends in the time of a global pandemic. However, this does not mean that they should spend all of their times on screens.
Similar to pre-pandemic limits, kids should spend their time in ways that develop the whole child. For the first part of the year, my kids have had access to their cell phones during the school day. The primary reason for this is that many teachers disabled chat in videoconferencing to prevent other issues that could have arisen from free flowing communication that is difficult to monitor real-time. However, the original reason why my kids got their phones was so they could communicate as they went back and forth from school. Since this is no longer an option, they will now be asked to not use their phones until after the school day concludes. This is consistent with what their teachers requested during conferences to help prevent distractions.
Prior to the pandemic, my kids were able to enjoy their entertainment (video games, movies & YouTube) only on the weekends. At the beginning of the pandemic, these rules were relaxed in recognition of how dramatically there worlds had changed. However, now they are on screens from the time that they wake up until the time they go to bed. The first half of their day is spent on e-learning. And the balance with the absence of food and family time is on the screen. This is not healthy. So, I’m going to have them spend 1 hour/day on screens to interact with their friends and 2 hours/day on the weekend. This will allow them to still have a social connection with their friends. But, these limits will prevent them from becoming fully consumed by their devices.
Before the pandemic, there were strict limits on the type of content my kids could consume. Nothing that was not developmentally appropriate based on their age or maturity was allowed. As the pandemic continued on and they began spending longer and longer on their screens, the type of content that was acceptable expanded. This created distance between the value of acceptable use of screens from that which is productive to that which simply consumes time without adding any value to their development as good and decent human beings. To help return to normal, the content limits are returning.
Finally, screens should not be the only time kids are happy or satisfied with their lives. If kids are only finding joy when they are on screens, then that is the sign of a bigger problem. One thing that I’ve consistently noticed is that the longer they are engaged with the screen, the more disagreeable they become when the screen is removed. To help create the needed balance, we have scheduled time where they spend with their siblings and independently to make sure that they have the opportunity to develop themselves complete separate from their digital lives.
With a re-establishment of pre-Covid limits, I am confident that my kids will see that screens are simply one part of their lives. One that helps them learn about the worlds around them but doesn’t consume their every waking moment. Although this is difficult considering the limited number of outlets to build social interactions in person, I think that this will pay dividends long after our lives return to normal.