Coronavirus could trigger a screen time pandemic or a surge in awareness of digital wellbeing. The choice is in our hands.
We are living in unique times. As the world literally shuts down, more pressure is being put on families to adapt to living in close quarters, juggling parenting, work, learning and play all while cut off from the security of their normal routines.
However, while our day-to-day lives may seem busier than ever, there is also a stillness. Gone are the demands of external schedules, consumerist ideals, social obligations, twice-daily commutes… Many may fear isolation and search for an endpoint to this period. But we can also see this moment in time as a gift. Time to be with our immediate families, with ourselves and to reflect on what type of parents, leaders, and society we want to be.
At this juncture, one of the most pressing questions for me is how we will choose to manage our relationship with technology and what this holds for the future of digital wellbeing. As we make changes in the short-term to cope during this time, it’s important that we consider the habits and policies we are building for tomorrow. Now, more than ever, we need to be consciously connected.
Understandably, we have already seen a surge in screen time around the world since the start of social distancing measures and the closure of schools. We’ve seen more than 100% spike in online activity on kids’ devices across Spain, Italy and France, and a 95% rise in the US since the start of the outbreak.
This has been driven by an increase in online communication, social media use and following of news, but also of course, by the mass implementation of online learning and working.
There is a wealth of fantastic resources available to support online education and activities, many of which are being encouraged by schools. However, the fact remains that for young minds, too much screen time can limit neurological development, impact eye health, increase the prevalence of ADHD and affect sleep.
Parents, it is time to raise your game when it comes to understanding the impacts of technology (both positive and negative) and to work on finding the right balance of time spent on and offline.
Here are some tips to help:
Reset your expectations
Many people now have 3 or 4 full-time jobs: carer, worker, parent, teacher. It is not realistic nor sustainable to think you can be all these things all of the time. Try to reset your expectations about how much work you can deliver, or how fabulous your cooking, teaching or parenting will be. Divide your day clearly between your roles, and be dedicated to that role for a period of time. Be accepting that something will have to give and that’s OK.
Learn from homeschooling experts - don’t just plug and play
There are a number of different approaches to homeschooling. They range from being 100% child-led (e.g. Montessori or Unschooling), through to more curriculum-style teaching (e.g. Traditional or Classical). However, across the board, homeschooling experts will present the same views: don’t try to replicate the classroom at home, and don’t expect children to concentrate all day.
Most homeschooling experts recommend a maximum of 4 - 5 hours of engaged learning per day for older children, and up to 2 for younger ones. Online learning may be instructive, but activities should also be built to encourage connection with nature, physical activity, and offline creativity.
Follow the lead of your children with respect to what they are most interested in, and they will do much better.
Have a schedule and stick to it – be clear about when screen time begins and ends
This may be something your children come up with or that you agree on as a family. By providing a clear structure to the day, with set times for snacks and meals, downtime and activity periods, you and your children will be able to better navigate through the day.
Remember that any increases in screen time now will be difficult to go back on when we return to ‘normal’ unless they are seen as “activity sessions” taking the place of regular lessons and which will later be replaced by school.
Check-in - because now we can
In the busyness of normal life, it’s all too easy to miss out on meaningful connections with ourselves and with our children. Now is the time for 1000 one minute conversations a day with your child.
Get to know your child. Listen to them. Understand their daily rhythm and work with it.
Learn about digital citizenship and fake news
For older children, as they start to spend more time online, use this opportunity to talk about digital citizenship, and how to think critically and compassionately about what they see online (see Common Sense Media for some great resources).
Consider the values you are building more broadly - how can they use this time to support people outside of their 4 walls?
Be the role model you want for your children
Keep your own screen time in check. If you know that scrolling the news or social media is making you more anxious, then be mindful and reduce your time online. Keep your devices out of sight when you spend time together. Be honest and open with your children about how you are feeling, and they will be open with you.
And last but not least, be there for your children.
When it comes to screen time, provide freedom and monitor, but don’t let tech replace your role as a parent. Research has shown that children who are emotionally and physically close to their parents through periods of extreme anxiety fare much better in the long-run than those who are not.
Whilst we may be physically close, the need to be emotionally close is more important than ever before. Give your children the extra time and love that they deserve.