The COVID-19 pandemic-induced shelter-in-place has many of our children spending extra time in front of screens. They may be e-learning, Zooming with friends and family, or engaging with other diversions like social media and video games to stay connected with friends. In this new “normal,” we may have heightened concerns about the increase in screen time. After all, for years, educators, early childhood experts, and health guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics have advised limiting screen time. The sheer volume of articles on the matter that proliferate the internet can be daunting and confusing -- plus, during a pandemic, when everyone is “social distancing,” does it make sense to worry about screen time limitations?
Fortunately, when consulting with experts such as Dr. Michael Rich1, screen time itself is not something we likely need to be overly concerned about2, and he is not alone in his conclusions. Educator and author of, "The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World,” Jordan Shapiro also reassures us that, “All the research has consistently shown that there's nothing toxic about screen exposure.” 3
What is essential is balancing our screen time to ensure we continue to meet our other needs like practicing self care; Giving our eyes rest from the screen is vital. Providing our bodies and minds with sunlight, physical movement, water, and fresh air are necessary to be at our best. Fortunately, it’s possible to accomplish this in three easy steps:
Step #1: ESTABLISH SCREEN TIME BOUNDARIES
To help maintain a healthy relationship with our devices, establish boundaries. For starters, disable all unnecessary notifications (e.g. social media, games, etc.) and keep those you do (e.g. Google Classroom, email, etc.).
Manage notifications on iOS
Manage notifications on Mac
Manage notifications on Android
Manage notifications on Windows
Another good boundary is to establish a schedule in which you allocate, monitor, and adhere to usage times. Here is a sample schedule:
|7:30am - 8:00am||Physical activity break (e.g. yoga, go for walk), No devices|
|8:00am - 9:45am||Use devices for productivity only (e.g. school/work related use)|
|9:45am - 10:00am||Brain break (e.g. sit on the patio for fresh air and/or check social media)|
|10:00am - 11:45am||Use devices for productivity only (e.g. school/work related use)|
|11:45am - 12:15pm||Lunch, No devices|
|12:15pm - 12:45pm||Physical activity break (e.g. yoga, go for walk), No devices|
|12:45pm - 1:00pm||Brain break (e.g. sit on the patio for fresh air and/or check social media)|
|1:00pm - 2:45pm||Use devices for productivity only (e.g. school/work related use)|
|2:45pm - 3:00pm||Brain break (e.g. sit on the patio for fresh air and/or check social media)|
|3:00pm - 4:00pm||Physical activity break (e.g. yoga, go for walk), No devices|
|4:00pm - 9:00pm||Family time, Device use to be determined by discretion|
|9:00pm - 7:30am||Hygiene and Sleeping time, No devices|
In the time slots indicating “No devices," physically leave devices in another room to charge. It is especially important to not store devices in bedrooms at night as the blue light exposure, notifications, and other temptation can disrupt restorative sleep.
Step #2: SHARE THE EXPERIENCE4
Whether checking social media, working on a class assignment, writing up a report for work, or playing a game, sharing our experience with those dear to us can help facilitate great conversations.
Step #3: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Being at home has its advantages. Where we sit and for how long is entirely our choice (and our WiFi access range). Set up shop on the couch, at the counter, or even lay out in the yard to relax your muscles. Encourage your children (and yourself) to take breaks and use that time to stretch, give eyes a break, take in some fresh air, bask in the sun, and disconnect from the screen. If you have to be on a screen for an extended period of time, alleviate eye strain by following the “20-20-20” rule5. Recommended by opthamologists like Dr. Rob J. Weinstock, who is also a member of the Eyesafe Vision Health Advisory Board, the “20-20-20” Rule stipulates that every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
In short, having access to technology during this time is a gift; it’s a way to stay connected to our loved ones and our world. It’s also an opportunity to learn and incorporate better balance and intention in how we use our devices. So, don’t worry about the increase in screen time. Self care is more important.
1 Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and practices Adolescent Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital