Q:With Safer at Home orders in place indefinitely, our strict rules about screen time have pretty much gone out the window. Are we doing lasting damage? Should we be stricter with time limits?
Join the party! Believe me, you are one of many who feel the same way and are asking the same questions about screen time.
The Safer-at-Home protocol has rocked all of our lives in so many ways. As hard as parents have tried to maintain a degree of normalcy, that has proven to be impossible. Ours kids’ world and ours have been turned up-side-down. This is really hard.
So many families are adjusting their pre-pandemic rules, limits and boundaries so as to maintain their sanity. These include rules around bedtime, eating, state-of-the-house and most of all, screen time. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I am saying it is a necessity for some. (“Desperate times call for desperate measures?!”)
Maintaining your sanity and a degree of peace in the house is important. No one is happy when Mommy and/or Daddy is unhappy. After all this time at home, many parents have shared how they have backed off on lots of things, even including Zoom school, and are being less demanding. The scream ENOUGH! is echoing across the land.
Before this pandemic, it was much easier to have clear screen time limits, as there were many other ways for children to occupy themselves throughout their days. Most parents had firm screen time rules based on what we know about the effect of screen time on growing bodies—physically, socially and emotionally.
Very young children have a limited ability to learn from screens. Their learning comes from live interactions with their environment and people, receiving reactions from both. With all children, screen time detracts from that very important unstructured play time.
In addition, the usage of screens as babysitters or just a diversion undermines children’s learning how to regulate boredom, impulses and distress, and to play independently. Finally, there are studies that point to the negative effects that screens can have on children’s sleep, language skills and vision.
While tweens and teens are better able to learn from screens, doing so detracts from other means of learning. Some studies have shown that video game players and TV watchers will suffer attention disorders as a result. Other studies have shown that internet addiction can shrink brain regions responsible for planning and executive functions, empathy, compassion and impulse control.
But you know all this, you fear it, and you wonder what will happen when, by necessity, you loosen your screen time rules. The reality is that, yes, you do have to adjust your rules to adapt to pandemic times. But know this first and foremost: this is not forever; this is just for now.
I do not believe you will do permanent developmental, psychological or physiological damage by allowing your child for a few months more screen time than before. I believe that the brain and body can and will recover from the overexposure. This ability is especially true in children. For now and not forever, I repeat.
Regardless of the conditions, children must have limits for pretty much everything they do. In fact, I cannot think of one activity in their lives that should go on endlessly without limits. Children need to have balance in the things they do.
Even though your child is watching screens more than before, he should not be allowed free range. Without question, you need to have limits not only to how much he watches but also for what he watches. Children need to live within limits, as they also need to learn to tolerate frustration and disappointment.
I do believe going to school via Zoom is different than being entertained or socializing online. It is, nonetheless, a screen with blue light, and it affects children the ways touched upon above and much more. Most experts agree that two hours beyond the Zoom school time (for older children) is plenty and enough. That does not mean that you should allow two hours; I suggest starting with far less. But that should be the ceiling.
The problem area will likely be changing the rules back, when we again have more options for our children for learning, fun, entertainment and socializing. You will reinstate a version of your previous rules, one that reflect your beliefs and your children’s well-being.
Likely, your children will make a big stink about this. They will moan, complain, groan and be nasty … whatever works.
You will be a calm, patient parent, understanding that you have just ripped from your children their most favorite activity: screens. This readjustment will take time. But, as before, you child will adapt. And he won’t be so mad at you forever …. just for now.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com. For a list of summer alternatives to screen time, check out Page 20 of 90272 Magazine.
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