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Tips for Directing Children’s Screen Time During Times of Social Isolation

It is more than likely that this pandemic has caused family schedules and usual routines to change dramatically. Children are now home all day, some doing distance learning and others, too young needing constant stimulus to keep them occupied. Owing to the social distancing rules even their friends cannot visit and many parents are trying to manage them while working from home. Not an easy task.

It is not surprising that many parents are taking advantage of all the various devices available, TV’s, I-pads and videogames to fill the hours in the day for them and their children. However, it is likely they are going over the recommended amount of screen time for their children.

For children between 2 and 5 just one hour is recommended and no screen time for children under 18 months. These recommendations don’t include time spent video chatting, for instance using Zoom which has become a lifeline for many families, as has a ‘trip’ to a Vegas casino and other online entertainment sites for many adults.

So how do parents decide how much screen time they should allow their children during this challenging time. Parents want to know that they are not causing problems for their children which may surface later. So, how much screen time should be allowed? Can screen time actually be helpful and, if so, for what ages? Here are a few recommendations that will help parents manage and use screen time in a beneficial way for their young children who are stuck inside during this pandemic.

Choose good quality educational programs

Selecting the right kinds of programs can actually be beneficial for children over the age of two. When programs have been created for an educational purpose these can be useful in the development of language skills in very small children. “Sesame Street” is such a program.

The better programs will be those that are specifically developed for younger children, having a very clear story to follow and match the developmental level of the children they are aimed at. These programs often have a direct dialogue with the children and label items so that learning new sounds and words is possible. However, any screen time, if thought to be educational, is not beneficial for children under 18 months as learning is unlikely to occur in this way.

View together

There is some evidence to show that watching together with your child can improve their language development. They are more likely to learn new words if they are watching with you. A parent pointing out and labelling what the child is viewing and relating what they are watching to things that are present in the child’s daily life can be useful and educational.

For instance, by announcing “That’s a red car!”. So, it may be worth joining in and viewing it together. Make it a joint activity. Ask questions about what they are seeing and understanding. Ask what they think might happen next. It is good to get them thinking about what it is they are viewing.

Screens can be useful to keep up connections

Parents are to be encouraged to use video chats, like zoom and skype to keep in touch with family and friends. This is even recommended for very small children and even infants. Social interaction is beneficial for all children and is a good use of screen time. You can even customize the app with funny zoom backgrounds that make the experience more kid-friendly.

During this time of social isolation, it could be very positive for children to use these devices to keep connected to friends and neighbors. Grandparents can read stories to their grandchildren and you can have different friends engage with your children in other ways, perhaps singing or sharing music together.

Screen time should not take precedence over other activities

First and foremost, engaging and interacting with your child is the most important factor in your child’s developmental growth. Talking and playing with brothers and sisters, and parents is by far the most important ingredient in helping your child to grow and learn. Try limiting screen time to allow for these interactions to take place.

While it is okay to be more relaxed about how much screen time you allow your children during this challenging time of social isolation, it is still recommended to remain in charge and not let all the rules go. We do know that no limit to screen time, over long periods of time, does have a detrimental effect on early child brain development causing delays in children reaching their expected milestones, including talking and writing and even walking. But these results were seen in children whose screen time habits continued longer than a few weeks.

Creating a schedule is a really good way of introducing all kinds of activities into your children’s day. Children love and need structure. These could include screen time, nap time, physical exercise time, meal and snack times, reading time and some family get together time, perhaps playing a game together. A schedule will benefit your child emotionally, mentally and physically. Keep in mind that screen time should not be scheduled in before at least an hour before your child goes to sleep. This time should be for quiet and relaxing activities like reading.

Set a good example for your children

We are all anxious to know the most up-to-date information concerning what is happening with the coronavirus and it is easy for us to get drawn into constantly checking for up-dates. However, we, as adults, also need to be vigilant about the amount of time we spend on devices. It is important to remember that our children are likely to do as we do.

Our screen time will impact our children’s screen time. We need to introduce healthy habits for ourselves. Limiting our own screen time and scheduling in other healthy activities like physical exercise, reading and preparing healthy meals. Our children will then have good role models and it will be easier to enforce healthier rules regarding screen time.

A final note, it is necessary to explain the situation we are facing to our children. However, it is not recommended to constantly share all the daily negative news reports as this can create un-necessary stress for your children.