Simply getting your kids back to school this year is not enough. Digital wellbeing expert, athlete and mom encourages parents to do an early check-in to see how their children are feeling so far, and to take a second look at data privacy and their family’s screen time rules.
I’m an avid athlete and outdoors person, and I have found that there is a lot that sports and nature have taught me that I use to help me with parenting. There is one habit from the hiking world that I think is especially relevant now for parents as we and our kids adjust to back-to-school in the ‘new normal’. I am referring to a tried and true concept that says that after about 10 minutes of hiking you should stop and re-check your pack, check your laces and adjust the comfort of your hiking boots, and take a sip of water.
Now that school is in full swing in most places, be it in-person, at home or some hybrid version of the two – now that you’ve hiked that first mile – I think a check-in is what we parents need to do, too. Take a moment to stop and review how this school year is going for your children so far. Follow up on how they are feeling. Also, check in on yourself? How are you feeling? Looking back at your back-to-school check lists, is there anything you didn't get done or missed? For example, if your child is largely on school online, do you know what is happening to their data? Have you dialed back on the amount of time they are behind screens after school?
To help you be set for the rest of the school journey that lies ahead, I’ve put together this handy ‘hikers’ screen time guide to help ensure their children have a more successful, safe and digitally balanced school year.
5 Tips to Check In on Your Child’s Digital Safety, Screen Time Balance and Back-to-School Blues
- Maximise the last few weeks of good weather. It was comforting to see that screentime dropped for most kids across the summer holidays, as many families made the most of lockdown easing and the chance to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. In the last few weeks of warmer temps and longer daylight, do what you can to get outside to capture the physical benefits of exercise and vitamin D, and the psychological benefits of escaping into nature. And, regardless of the weather, if you child does extracurricular activities, try to make at least one outdoors. As the Scandinavian saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!”
- Tighten up your after-school screen time routine, especially before bed. Over the course of lockdown in the spring, many families found that screentime grew, routines softened and bedtimes slipped. Now is a good time to get strict about a suitable bedtime if you haven’t already. Leading paediatricians and researchers recommend that in order to protect sleep, devices should be kept out of the bedroom, and not used 30 minutes before lights out. There is also evidence that switching the type of media-consumption to something less stimulating will aid sleep.
- Create or review your family screen time contract Family screen time contracts with written down agreed to rules about screen time have been proven to work better than verbal agreements. If you have one already, discuss it as a family now – what has worked and what needs to change? If you don’t have one, be sure to make one, sign it and remember you must be the role model who follows it. Stick it on the fridge! Here are a few family contracts you can use to get started or to get inspiration from to create one of your own:
•Qustodio Back to School Screen Time Agreement
•Qustodio-Kidscape Family Digital Wellbeing Checklist & Worksheet
- Take control of your child’s data. Check with your child’s school to make sure you know what online tools they are using and how the school is sharing your child’s data. Have the school delete that data at the end of the year and if your child leaves the school. If you child is like many children and using Google Chrome this year, check out this guide to managing your child’s data on that platform.
- Talk to your child about the return to school so far. Particularly for some of those children who have been out of school for over 6 months, make sure you take the time to discuss with them thoughts on how they are feeling about returning to school. What is going well? What are they still concerned about? What would they like you to do as parents to support them? We know the sad truth that the rates of online harm, predatory behaviour and online bullying have increased during the first half of the year. Be aware that things may have happened online that your child now has to address face-to-face in the playground. This could add additional anxiety to how they are feeling about returning to school.
- The Children’s Society recommends looking out for some of the following signs which may indicate that your child needs help:
• Talking about older/new friends they’ve met online
• Talking about gifts/money they’ve received online
• Becoming withdrawn and secretive
• Having a new phone or more than one phone
• Receiving a large number of calls or messages
• Worried about being away from their phone
From one parent to another, I wish you and your children all the very best for the term ahead. Parenting was already the hardest job in the world, and COVID has only exacerbated that. I like to think about how easy it will all feel again once the world really does return to a new normal. In the meantime, keep up the good work and don’t forget to stop along the way, not just in these early days, to check your laces and take a sip of water. Happy trails!
- Ofcom Children’s Media Lives: Life in Lockdown (Ofcom)
- Youth screen media habits and sleep: sleep-friendly screen-behavior recommendations for clinicians, educators, and parents (NCBI)
- Learn the signs of online exploitation and how to safeguard young people at risk of online child abuse. (Children’s Society)
Further reading on online safety and digital wellbeing:
- For Every Hour of Screen-time, One Hour of Fresh Air (Mobile Free Life)
- Is Problematic Smartphone Use (PSU) Making Your Child Unhappy? (Maria Guerrero, Psychologist)
- Does your child have a digital addiction? (Maria Guerrero, Psychologist)
- Is Heavy Screen Time Rewiring How Your Children Think and Learn? (Dr. Nicole Beurkens)