Balancing screen time in normal daily life was already a concern for parents but the coronavirus has presented a whole new challenge. Now that kids are relegated to their screens for school, social interactions and extracurriculars as well, there’s a lot more to finding a healthy balance. Below we’ll go over some tips for overcoming screen time challenges and provide you with free media use agreement printables to help your family come to an agreement you can be happy with.
Start An Open Conversation
One of the most important elements of striking this media-use balance is allowing for an open conversation to occur — we need to listen to our children’s own concerns if we expect them to listen to ours (you might be surprised by what they have to say). Some different prompts to start this conversation include:
- How are you feeling about not being able to see your friends in-person at school?
- How has virtual learning been going? Do you think it’s easier or harder than going to school?
- What are some things you like about online school? What are some things you don’t like as much?
- How do you feel after finishing online school? Do you think looking at the screen for too long makes you tired or your eyes hurt?
By acknowledging their challenges and cueing them to open up, they may feel like the process is more collaborative versus black and white rules that they must follow, which many times can create the desire for rebellion, as most parents know. Media use is harder to control compared to other behaviors that are more apparent. The more your child feels like you’re on their team, the more likely they are to be open about cyberbullying or other online challenges.
Talk About Reasonable Boundaries
Get a feel for how much time your child thinks they should be spending online. This, of course, varies a lot by age. Teens are using media to stay connected with friends and dealing with the loss of many exciting social milestones (like prom and graduation). It’s important to take a step back and realize that COVID-19 has set the scene for different media boundaries.
This is also something that should be discussed with your kids, they should know that any extended hours or minutes of media use (past normal day-to-day usage) is pretty contingent on the evolution of social distancing and how many other viable activities they have. They should understand that as life resumes back to normal so will the expectations of their media use. Note that recommended screen time by age varies by lifestyle and your individual situation.
Promote Positive Usage
Here are some tips to promote healthier media use:
- Set a good example with your partner: Don’t tell your kids they can’t use phones at the dinner table and then do it yourself.
- Inform your kids: Depending on their age, talk to your kids about the detrimental effects of too much screen time. They need to understand that this isn’t a “because I said so” situation, too much media has damaging effects.
- Plan family media time: Schedule a fun recurring movie night or group game on the Wii that will get everyone engaged.
- Introduce good influences: Show your kids interactive games that will also boost their brain power (think puzzles, trivia, math games, and matching).
- Brainstorm alternatives: Help your kids think of other activities and crafts that they can entertain themselves with when it’s time to power down the devices.
Write It Out
All of this can be laid out in an agreement that you make with your kids and partner. Once you feel comfortable with your family’s media plan, fill out one or a couple of the screen time agreements below (courtesy of Panda Security):
Finally, it’s important to remember to check-in with your kids. Media agreements are not a “set it and forget it” solution. You should check in periodically to see how they’re working and also leave an open discussion channel for talking about instances of media abuse and cyberbullying. Your screen time agreements may need to evolve once school is out, so don’t forget to re-evaluate when conditions change!