Over the past couple of months, our standard way of living has been upended. Recent trends are providing an increased sense of normalcy, but people across the country and the world are adapting to a new normal.
One component of that has been technology. With school (and many facets of work) occurring virtually and isolation limiting face-to-face interaction, the use of technology has surged, with various devices serving as a lifeline to fulfill our mental, social and emotional needs. Considering research shows kids were already spending an average of seven hours per day on digital media prior to this pandemic, parents are now faced with an even greater challenge when it comes to balancing screen time.
Here are a few strategies to consider if you notice your kid’s sleep schedule or mood is being negatively impacted by technology use.
A Balanced Plan
The first step to getting a better grip on technology is measuring how much time they’re currently spending on it (including how much time they need to complete school work) and determining what you believe are healthy limits. If your kids are attending day care, be aware how much screen time they’re getting there and factor that in as well.
For kids under five years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics has strong recommendations of limiting screen time, but after that, it becomes much more about what type of priority your family wants to place on technology compared to other hobbies.
Then, put a plan in place and stick to it. Regardless of what that plan is, research indicates setting those guides in place and ensuring you have an active role in how much technology your kids are consuming will have a positive impact on their physical and cognitive development.
Be a Role Model
As every parent knows, kids, especially at younger ages, watch us as much or more than we watch them so try to be more aware of your own screen time. It will be difficult to implement a culture change relating to technology use unless it’s a total family commitment so be prepared to cut back on your phone and social media usage as well.
Encourage Outdoor Time
Being in school this time of year can be tough on kids because they yearn for the chance to go outside and play. Turn the challenge of doing schoolwork at home into an opportunity to increase your kid’s level of focus by providing more frequent, but short breaks to go play outside.
Building healthy routines for being outdoors will also help once summer fully arrives.
Tech Free Zones or Times
Two of the most popular recommendations when it comes to reducing the negatives effects of technology are keeping screens out of bedrooms, where they can affect sleep habits, and preventing them from affecting family interactions, like at the dinner table. The same concept of designating certain times or places as tech free zones can also be expanded to other areas, such as the family cabin or a friend/relative’s house.
Recognize Social & Emotional Needs
Digital media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and occupied, and it can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family while staying at home.
However, technology may also mask children’s deeper social and emotional needs. Kids need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions such as loneliness, come up with activities to manage boredom, talk about ways to solve problems, and find other strategies for channeling emotions.
With family schedules significantly reduced, it may be the perfect time to implement a game night or other consistent family activity that provides an opportunity to increase conversations with kids and build deeper bonds.