With many families opting for distance learning this fall, parents are understandably concerned about the amount of time their children are spending on devices. Prior to the pandemic, experts on child development touted limiting screen time.  I am here to tell you that the rules have changed; not all screen time is created equal.  Educational screen time is different from Recreational screen time. Both are important and fulfill different needs. These days, parents have so many worries, obligations, and concerns that are taking up mental headspace, so let’s remove the guilt about screen time. With the right balance, and the proper amount of monitoring, it serves its purpose and can be a helpful tool for maintaining connections.

Educational Screen Time

Educational screen time is any type of screen time involved with school, including time spent learning, researching, reading, interacting with teachers and or other students remotely.

If your child or teen has “Zoom Fatigue” – difficulty focusing, feeling tired, distracted, or unmotivated – try weaving in “brain breaks” into the school day. Here are strategies to try:

  • For a quick, fun brain break that speaks channels the visual and tactile senses, have your child hold a crayon or marker in each hand and have them scribble on a blank piece of paper for twenty seconds. Encourage them to explore their image – what do they notice about it? Can they spot any hidden shapes or figures?
  • Have your child “hum” (Computer mic on silent) when they need to release some vocal energy.
  • Weave in physical activity into the day as possible, such as wall pushups, jumping jacks, or stretches. Bonus points if you do these things together!
  • Integrate deep breathing (Belly Breathing, Counting Breath, Rainbow Breath to combat feelings of anxiety or frustration

For additional tools to help kids stay focused during distance learning, check out this article from Common Sense Media: httpss://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/tools-to-help-kids-stay-focused-during-distance-learning

Recreational Screen Time

Recreational screen time includes activities such as online gaming and social media. Long ago, we were cautioned against kids of all ages spending too much time falling down the technological rabbit hole. These days, we can look at recreational screen time as a way to socialize from afar. Games like Minecraft and Fortnite, for example, allow kids to connect and bond over mutual interests.

Recreational screen time is even important for students who are attending brick and mortar school because in-person socialization is more limited and has new social expectations. For younger children engaged in distance learning, collaborative, non-directive play is hampered by distance learning. Older students are unable to hang out and congregate in groups. While some children and teens may connect face to face in school, their social emotional needs for connection may not be met. Thankfully, Spring and Summer have taught us that we can connect and recreate together from afar.

The good news is, children can enjoy virtual dance lessons, drama, art and more remotely. Friend groups, who may now be separated, can stay in touch via FaceTime or Zoom.  If we look at screen time through a lens of connection, then virtual game play – be it Uno or Minecraft – helps kids establish a new sense of normalcy and provides practice of those all-important social skills. In our juggle for balancing screen time versus human interaction – the need for interaction wins.

For some additional ideas on how middle and high schoolers can utilize screen time to connect with others, combat feelings of loneliness, and ward off feelings of depression, check out the ideas below:

  • House Party, an app where players can enjoy game play such as Heads Up, Pictionary, Escape rooms and more
  • com: Competitive Game Play
  • com has stories and activities for interaction between grandparents and grandkids

Additionally, this article from Common Sense media provides helpful suggestions for socializing at a distance. httpss://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/online-playdates-game-nights-and-other-ways-to-socialize-at-a-distance

Of course, remember to add in old school, face-to-face fun whenever possible. Game nights with actual board or card games, cooking together, puzzles, creating a family time capsule, and getting outside for hiking or biking – anything and everything physical, weather permitting.

One young mom covered the floor with a blanket, put out canvases and washable paint and let her two-year-old get creative.   Finding a healthy balance between screen time and off-screen life provides the social connection many of us are craving.  Positive social interactions, be it virtually or in-person, provide some healing for the regret and loss we may feel right. Time to pivot towards new ways of socializing and accept that a certain amount of screen time is here to stay – let’s make the best of it.