Leader in digital wellbeing and mum of two, Georgie Powell, gives busy parents her wise screen time tips for life.
COVID-19 lockdowns caused screen time levels to skyrocket well over 100% in 2020, and brought urgent attention to the concept of digital wellbeing. But well before the coronavirus disrupted our lives, doctors, psychologists, technologists and wellbeing experts like me were sounding cautionary bells about the potential harm of excessive screen time and the urgent need for balance.
In this time when technology use has never been more important for families, we thought it would be a good moment to remind parents that screen time wisdom does exist. Here I share some screen time tips based on Qustodio’s Digital Wellbeing Report that I know work, both as a busy professional and mum.
7 smart screen time tips you can apply daily
1. Think about the values that you want to share as a family.
What is important to you? Use these values to think about how to focus your time and energy as a family and set a routine for the week. You could use a family contract to agree on screen time limits, and sign it together. Being open about the controls you put in place and the reasons why, increases buy in. My eldest daughter loved being able to also decide on rules that apply to mom!
2. Turn off screens (yes, this includes TVs) at least 1 hour before bedtime to improve sleep quality.
This will also help to avoid blue light which has been associated with disrupting sleep patterns. Even better, fill that hour with some quality time reading, listening to music or taking a bath. This is just as important for adults as for children. News and social media can make us anxious and what we need right now is proper rest to cope with daily life. So take a break from scrolling, and switch off before you head to bed.
3. Keep cell phones off the dinner table.
Resist the temptation of the “digital pacifier” (using a digital device to keep your child quiet during dinner or, in modern life, video conferences!). Accept that sometimes your children will be disruptive. That’s OK! They are children and it’s an important part of growing up.
4. Remember you are a role model.
Put down your phone and make eye contact with your child. Face to face interactions are critical for children learning to socialize, and right now, provide important emotional connection to support our children through uncertain times. Now we are living so closely to each other, we have the opportunity to embrace those million one minute conversations which can be so formative.
5. Set consistent screen time limits
Base your limits on your child’s age, mental maturity and “digital resilience” (their understanding of the dangers on the internet and their ability to deal with them by not falling into traps and alerting a parent or adult). Consistency is key, not just for your child’s sense of stability but also your own sanity. Of course, in special circumstances, pandemic or otherwise, you might have to extend your screen time limits to allow for online education or just to give yourself a 15-minute break, and that’s OK. Just try to be consistent about those extensions, explaining to children why they are happening.
6. Avoid screen time for children under the age of 2.
A quick wave to grandma on Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom or whatever your favorite video chat app is these days is fine. Why is this important? Because studies have found that little ones still learn a lot more by moving through a screen-free environment than anything they could watch online.
7. After 45 minutes max, take a screen time break.
Breaks help you to protect your eyes and get your body moving. This is important for eye health, physical health and also for learning. If it is not convenient to go outside, I tell my daughters to stretch and look out the window to allow their eyes and their bodies to use different muscles.
Most importantly though, remember that we are living in extraordinary times. Whilst these recommendations may work for your family, they should not add further pressure in an already stressful time. We are all doing our best. So as a parent that cares, give yourself a pat on the back. You can do this.