Due to COVID, governments worldwide imposed the sudden closure of schools, institutions, and offices as part of their containment strategy.
During these challenging times, digital technology and virtual platforms have been vital to the academic community. Schools and universities had to make a quick shift to online learning to ensure the continuity of courses. This mode of learning is here to stay.
Regardless of schools now returning to normal, e-learning approaches will remain a vital support strategy for blended learning when new closures occur. Digital innovation is likely to have numerous positive effects on the future of education. However, parents are worried - the increase in screen time, combined with a significant reduction in outdoor time, could further accelerate the outbreak of myopia.
By screen time, we mean the amount of time spent and the diverse activities performed online using digital devices. For instance, screen time encompasses both using digital devices for work purposes (regulated hours of work or educational purposes) and leisure and entertainment (unregulated hours of gaming, viewing pornography, or social media use).
As per a study, children's time in front of electronic screens doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic to 7.7 hours per day in the United States, a number that excluded school-related work. Earlier, before the pandemic, the average screen time of the same group was 3.8 hours a day. Although researchers acknowledged, that age difference could have played a factor here.
Nevertheless, the numbers show a significant increase in screen time, primarily since "excessive screen time in adolescents associated with physical and mental health risks," the study authors pointed out.
Several other studies have found that about 40% of children regularly watch television, DVDs, or videos by three months of age. Moreover, by 24 months, this number rises to 90%. Another United States Research has found that children falling into the age group eight to eighteen on average spend seven hours and 11 minutes a day engaging with entertainment through screens. While research from Ofcom shows that, on average, adults in the United Kingdom check their phones every 12 minutes.
Lockdown didn't help those who were already addicted to their screens. Instead, an increase in screen time led to several health issues such as headaches, migraines, eyestrain, obesity, and sleep deprivation. It may also have caused behavioural problems in children, difficulties at school, and increased levels of violence.
Now, the question arises in the current scenario where online learning takes a front seat, how can parents limit their children's screen time? We have enlisted some expert-recommended advice and strategies.
Stick to a schedule
Following a consistent routine and schedule is always vital. You need to establish a schedule and follow and get your kids to follow the same. Instead of laying in bed while working from home and your kids taking online classes, set a routine that keeps you active and in terms of screen time, even if it is happening more than usual, build a schedule for it to set expectations. Children react better if there is a structured day rather than a free-for-all.
Stay the course
Once you set up a routine, you may find that your kids push back against it. They may follow the first few days but later ask questions or get angry as it is natural not to like new boundaries. However, as a parent, you need to stick to your plan and tolerate their irritation for a couple of days; resistance will likely fade when children settle into their new routines. Whenever possible, avoid making exceptions to the rules in the first week or two after you set the rules.
Have a device-free family meal per day
While it is acceptable to be more forgiving of screen time post the pandemic, it is still useful to incorporate screen-less time for the whole family, especially during meals.
This will allow you to have good conversations with your children and help develop your child's socioemotional health and relieve stress for the whole family in real-time.
Say no to screens prior to one or two hours of bedtime. Setting the device aside will help make it easier to fall asleep and wake up on time.
Focus on the content more than the duration
For parents, it is essential to monitor the activities of their children's digital devices, the content they encounter, and their online support networks, rather than strictly limiting their access. In addition, emphasize using digital tools to establish connections and create creativity.
Encourage phone calls with friends
After these stressful times, when children were locked behind doors, with almost no outdoor playing or meeting with friends, parents should encourage phone calls with friends rather than playing online games or connecting via social media as it would also offer a screen break.
Use Screen-time to pursue hobbies or exercises
We already know that physical activity is crucial for the development and well-being of children and, ideally, they should go out for exercise or play every day. If COVID cases rise, search for online dance or exercise videos that you can make together. It's a good way for kids to blow off steam and have fun.
Additionally, there are many exciting activities online to keep children active in real-life. Parents and children must find ways to stay active when work, learning, socializing, and play are limited to the screen.
Make the devices difficult to grasp
To keep kids away from the screen, keep electronic devices at a certain distance, so it's hard to reach them immediately when bored. Also, keep non-visual items like newspapers, riddles, cartoons, board games, stress balls, etc., very accessible.
Allow children to get bored sometimes
Digital devices are enriched with loads of fun content for individuals of all ages and are addictive, leading to more screen time. So, keep the devices away, let your kids get bored, and find their solutions to the trouble. It turns into an opportunity for them to develop their imagination. Also, children need not be constantly entertained, it can be detrimental to their development.
Be the role model
Parents need to act as role models to have their kids follow. They should set rules at home for everyone, not just for children, to limit screen time—model a sound use of the screen. If you make a point to set aside your screens during play hours, your kids will be more likely to do the same thing without setting up a fight. Moreover, taking breaks from technology has the added advantage of helping you limit your own media consumption and giving you moments of mindfulness with your children.
Start with compassion
Unstructured screen time is a key source of convenience and entertainment for many children. Telling your children that you understand their needs is an easy way to reduce stress for everybody. You can be polite and say to your kids, 'Look, you need a break to relax.' This may help them understand that they are stuck on screens for quite some time and require a break.
Provide Brainstorm alternatives
When telling your kids not to do something, make sure you tell them what to be doing instead. You may develop an "activity menu" with your child that lists their preferred non-screen activities (like playing games or with a pet, reading books, solving puzzles, etc.). That way, when they are bored or overwhelmed, they can make easy choices and stay away from the screen.
Do not debate
Real reasoned arguments and careful rationales are not likely to matter much to kids regarding screen time. The reality is that parents want to place limits, and kids do not see a valid reason behind limiting screen time. So do not get bogged down arguing with kids about what the rule should be. Once set, it is not up for discussion.
Engage with your kids
Talk to your child and ask him what he sees and learns whenever you can. It will be difficult for parents to work from home, which means being creative, like finding time to catch up at the end of every day. There are also countless applications, educational games and online activities that involve more involvement than watching a screen. Identify and recommend applications that elicit ideas for follow-up questions and conversation starters.
Do you know more? If yes, let us know in the comments.