How to manage kids’ screen time during Coronavirus

In the matter of a few weeks the Coronavirus has changed most of our comfortable family routines. I could rattle off a list of “non screen” activities for parents to encourage at home during this “social distancing” period like board games, painting, trampoline, card games…. the list goes on. But most parents, especially those with older children, will rebut through gritted teeth “This bloke is dreaming. No child is going to pick that stuff over screen time”. Many of you will be wondering how to manage kids screen time during Coronavirus, so what can we do?

Modern parents are asked to wear many hats. And in this age of technology apparently, we can add another to the never-ending list: general I.T. and screen/gaming expert. You all have time for that, right?

While many colleagues gallantly work to contribute to the field of research, let’s for the sake of this article put that to one side and allow ourselves to be practical. In my experience parents don’t care so much for the endless research and statistics in this field. They want practical real-world suggestions and strategies. This is exactly what my book Tech Diet for your Child and Teenserves up.

Screentime during Coronavirus: How will the Coronavirus change my child’s tech use?

Covid-19 will change our children’s screen use in many ways. And some of the strategies I would normally suggest are either not relevant or impossible for a parent to implement in these times. So, let me outline a few tips for parents to manage kids’ screen time during Coronavirus, broken down by age group.

Screentime for toddlers and pre-Schoolers (2-5 years-old)

  • The “usual” recommended amount of screen time in this age group is around 2 hours.
  • Don’t let screen time (or increased screen time) impact on bedtime. Kids should not be watching screens an hour or two before bed.
  • Keep other activities sacred. If you are having family dinner or playing this should be a time to all connect without screens.
  • Don’t give your toddler or pre-schooler access to a device. These should be password protected so parents have more control of their screen use in common areas.

Screentime for children (6-12 years-old)

  • The recommended amount becomes somewhat irrelevant in the event school classes are taught remotely (yes, that was a very difficult thing for an Internet Addiction Expert to write).
  • Kids thrive on routine. It will be important to ensure screens or smartphones don’t impact on a regular sleep schedule and “attending” virtual school classes.
  • Try to restrict recreational screens to after the usual school hours. Even then, encourage other activities like chores, outside play (where possible) and family activities in exchange for a chunk of recreational screen time.

Screentime for teens (13-18 years-old)

Most of the above points for “Children” apply in this category with a few extras to keep in mind:

  • It is far more difficult (and possibly explosive) when trying to physically remove a device from a teenager. If you have concerns around their sleep or thw general need to take a break you may be better off turning off the home WIFI all together. You will of course need to consider their smartphone data and if you become very concerned then limit that also.
  • Where restrictions allow, encourage outdoor activities in exchange for a “hassle free” period of screens. That may be in your own backyard for an hour, or if possible, with a neighbour or two. Be as creative as your local restrictions allow.

The bottom line is this. None of us are perfect parents. I’m fairly sure my kids will end up with more screen time should this crisis continue to go down the path it’s headed. But I would encourage parents to continue to think about all of your child’s developmental needs, be creative, and do the best you to to manage kids’ screen time during Coronavirus while we all ride this out.

Brad Marshall is a Psychologist and Director of The Internet Addiction Clinic @ Kidspace in Sydney, Australia. Brad is recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts in Gaming/Screen addiction. Brad’s most recent project “The Unplugged Psychologist” provides free tips and strategies to parents in conjunction with the recent release of his book “The Tech Diet for Your Child and Teen” published by HarperCollins. Brad is a well-respected guest speaker delivering seminars for students, parents, educators and corporate audiences on finding a balanced Tech Diet at home and school. Brad provides a common sense, humorous and practical voice on complex parenting topics.

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