Tracey Bianchi is a seasoned mom with three kids in middle school and high school. She shares with us her insight and experience on how to manage screen time for kids over winter break.
Like millions of students in the US, our three children have spent their school hours online since the COVID-19 shutdowns began in March 2020, only having been to in-person school four days in the past 10 months. This adds up to a lot of screen time!
As a family that prefers to limit screen time for kids and maximize in-person experiences, this new reality of online school added a significant amount of stress to our parenting decisions. And I know I am not alone.
Recently, our kids had a random Wednesday off from school. Knowing our children had been seated in front of screens for much longer than normal, I suggested to our 14-year-old that he find some “non-tech” activities to do on his day off. Instantly, he began to moan. “But Mom! Mom! All week I’m on screens for my teachers. I want to be on a screen today for me. It’s my day off. Why can’t I do what I want today on my screen?!”
Obviously, I began to argue him out of his plans, but the more we chatted, the more he made a good point. It was his day off, and he wanted to play video games with friends who he’s not been able to see in-person. Was this the worst thing in the world?
As a parent, I often lump all screen time together, whether online for school or social life. But there is a difference between essential technology and leisure technology. I still limited his screen use on his day off, but I also began to bend a bit and recognize that he had worked hard at school and had earned a chance to enjoy his technology and connect with his friends in our COVID-shaped culture.
Most families are now staring down the December calendar and beginning or about to begin winter break. This year, we celebrate the same welcome rest from the rigors of school with limited social, athletic, and travel options. So, how do we manage screen time for kids over winter break? Is there a way to balance the desire our children have to use devices with the very real fact that they have spent more time on screens in 2020 than perhaps the rest of their lives combined?
5 Helpful Hints to Manage Screen Time for Kids During Winter Break:
1. Admit the struggle as you manage screen time for kids
Give yourself some slack and remember that this has been an unprecedented year.
Admit that parenting in a pandemic is a new frontier and that you feel unsteady in finding the digital balance. Talk about this with friends or other families in your community; it is OK not to have a perfect plan for how to manage screen time. The important thing is that you are discussing how to parent during these times and moving toward the balance that works for your family. You do not (and probably cannot) have this all figured out in a neat and tidy package. Take a deep breath; you are not alone.
2. It’s OK to be online
It’s OK to spend more time on screens now than is comfortable for you. It’s reality. Depending on where you live, your community may have had social restrictions for almost a year. There are friends and schoolmates your children will not keep in touch with unless they are online.
While we as parents may wince at the furrowed brows and hunched shoulders that come with leaning over the laptop or phone, they are connecting with their friends.
Children are social creatures and — especially adolescents — are energized by connecting with friends.
Help them know that you understand this. Tell them that you know that this is how they are allowed to socialize while not being in school or with other restrictions in place. And then, challenging as it may be, allow them the extra screen time this year.
3. It’s OK to be offline
On the flip side, your child needs to know that it is OK to be offline, too. Their emotional and physical health depends on them taking a break from screens.
When you remind them to limit their screen time, do it in a way that does not guilt them but rather nudges them toward the benefits of being in-person with family and spending time outside.
If they are old enough to understand the science, share the research on sunshine, Vitamin D, physical activity, and the health and mood-boosting benefits of fresh air.
On most days at our house, you must earn your leisure screen time. There are no video games and there is no online time with friends until there is time spent outdoors. We live in the Chicago suburbs and winter here is cold and gray, but outside activity is still required before using devices. Of course, there is much more to do offline than simply play outside, and you know what your kids need most.
4. Lose the Schedule with screen time for kids
Over break, allow them to decide what to do and when. In #3 above, I wrote about required outside time before leisure screen time is allowed, but I do not plan to do this over winter break this year. I’ll tell my children that there are a certain number of hours per day that they need to be offline and a certain number of hours per day that they are allowed to be online, but I will let them choose when those things happen.
If they want to start their day with video games, I’ll let them. If they want to end their evening with a jog around the block, that’s fine, too. When they have the freedom to manage their own schedule, it helps them adapt more willingly to any time limits you provide.
5. Have online fun together with screen time for kids
Enjoy time together online. There are so many interactive family games and activities to be shared this season. Play Among Us, join a virtual painting class together, or take a lesson on how to play a favorite video game.
Parents might want to download their old vintage video game favorites if they had them. Introduce your kids to Donkey Kong and PacMan (updated versions of vintage games exist). Play online trivia or word games together. Let your children select the game and then play it together. Show them that time online can also be quality time with family.
2020 is an unprecedented year.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to tighten in most states, let’s all catch our collective breath. This winter break will be unprecedented: Stay in your PJs a bit longer and let your kiddos game a bit more than normal. 2020 has been a doozie for everyone.
Come up with a plan to manage winter break screen time for kids while at the same time holding that plan loosely and letting it go entirely if that feels like the best way to end this exceptionally challenging year.
If your kids are spending more time on screens, and you want to make sure that they don’t accidentally get exposed to explicit content, discover how you can introduce parental control apps in a way that honors both your child’s growing autonomy and your responsibility as a parent to keep them safe with Canopy