When trying to balance the decision making amid the available evidence, experience, and emotions (and oh yeah a pandemic), how can you arrive at an answer that makes sense for everybody in every situation? Rather than suggest one right answer, we want to break this question down piece by piece so you can make the best decision for your kids and lifestyle.
More questions than answers
Where do you turn when your entire world must happen within the walls of your quarantine bubble? As it expands and grows this summer, what constants can we find? How do we stay connected and encourage our children to do the same?
In this past year, so many of us have found these solutions digitally. As adults we can weather the estrangement from connection and shift of responsibility with the knowledge that this time will end, and our friendships will still be there. However, for our children, this is messier. The draw of screen time to supplement the lost social engagement of school and extracurriculars, becomes an all-encompassing space from which they’re trying to garner connection in the same manner.
Should we restrict that?
Is restricting it a punishment for a pandemic they have no say in and a removal from their lifeline to normalcy?
Is not restricting it a disservice that damages them, body and mind, in ways they will pay for for a lifetime?
It seems vague, but “maybe” is truly the best place to start. Maybe it’s damaging to restrict screen time, or maybe it’s damaging to allow a media free-for-all in the name of preserving a sense of connection amid confusion. Maybe it’s both.
There is so much we can’t control in our lives and in our childrens’ lives these days but we can certainly take back some of the space in our minds currently consumed by guilt. If we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that we can’t change or control everything. Our children, the pandemic, the health of the world and collective impact of decisions are things we can’t control. To some extent, so are our feelings. We can’t always stop them coming on but we can stop the train of thought that’s giving them power.
Things to consider
Juggling the weight of jobs, school, obligations, engagements, and socialization can feel daunting. However you decide to handle screen time, it’s high past time to let go of the guilt. With struggle becomming a pervasive theme of every aspect of our lives, we don’t need to add to the emotional weight of doing what we can with what we’ve got. What we do need to do is take a look at what we can control and focus on shifting our screen time decisions toward those aspects. Here’s a short but impactful list of important variables in determining appropriate screen time limitations for a mid-Covid summer.
Quality over quantity
There’s more to constructing beneficial screen time parameters than how long kids will spend using technology this summer. While regulations are relaxing, many of us have created new ways to engage or found things we are passionate about within our digital worlds. Those things won’t cease to exist in the slow return to a new normal, so try not to force a label on them that doesn’t truly apply.
It’s not an addiction to want to continue to participate in that Minecraft social club or sign up for another round of virtual guitar lessons. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing for your e-reader and reading a novel, or firing up a new spreadsheet to keep track of all the places you plan to travel and why you want to go.
All of these uses for technology engage us so much more than this preconceived notion that kids are rotting their brains in front of screens watching mindless hours of sitcoms or scrolling social media. But you know what? Those things are okay, too. They just require a different monitoring parameter than productive skill engagement through a screen may require.
Part of determining the value of our media consumption or tech use is about something that screens have inherently taken as they’ve become Mary Poppins’ bags of tricks inside little plastic cases: we can no longer differentiate their uses. When your kids pick up a tablet or phone, much like when we do, they may be learning a new skill, checking the weather, sending a text or scrolling mindlessly. Which is it? Well, unless there’s some transparency in what our screens are being used for, it’s near impossible to tell.
Even as adults, this is a struggle that plagues us when talking to one another and weighs in on the guilt of what our children see as they look at us trying to finish up that email before dinner. Try narrating what you’re doing on your devices as you move through your day, noting the number of tasks they serve, and challenge your kids to do the same. In creating this shared transparency, we can call for accountability from ourselves and one another without saying much at all. A focus on awareness of the true multifunctional use of our tech and the way we are using it may give us the freedom we need from the opacity of screens.
So, What’s the Answer?
The screen time debate has been the great parenting divide of the twenty-first century. Well, one of the many. Amid a COVID world, this already tumultuous topic has become a hot button of contention and unavoidable guilt. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when there’s no universal right answer, but that’s just it- there is no need to make the right decision for a universal collective. Make the decisions that suit your family and move forward with compassionate structure and open conversation toward a summer with screens exactly where they belong for your lives.