Thanks to the current COVID-19 crisis, kids have been homeschooling in place of attending their usual physical classrooms at school. As any parent will tell you, dealing with all the changes in scheduling, lack of social interactions and all the online school activities can be hard on everyone. Additionally, with eLearning comes an increase in screen time.
Figuring out how to contend with these changes, especially the overload of screen time, can certainly be difficult. Luckily, there are so easy ways to help you and your child better adjust to this new way of schooling.
Break Up Screen Time
One benefit of at-home learning is that the structure can be built according to your child's particular needs, unlike traditional days at school. To better combat excessive screen time, you can space out your child’s eLearning hours throughout the day and encourage non-screen activities in between class time. STEM-based outdoor learning activities, reading or drawing, puzzles, and other stimulating games are all great alternatives to screens yet still educational. Moreover, teaching your children alternatives to screen time will help build up better self-regulating habits.
It’s also important to look at your own screen habits. As researchers at Bradley University explain, “Children adopt many of the behaviors exhibited by their parents, so it’s also important that parents act as screen time role models for their children. This can include not checking emails or messages that relate to work while at home, spending time on other activities that don’t involve a screen, and even making screen time, such as TV watching, a family activity.” Of course, your life and responsibilities don’t just come to a halt once your children are finished with their school day, but learning to unplug from your devices will help show your kids that life doesn’t always revolve around their phone or computer.
If you and your family really struggle to completely unplug try turning it into a challenge. The last person to touch their phone or tablet gets a bowl of ice cream or gets a one-time pass on a chore they hate. It also helps to have technology-free moments together, such as at dinner time or during a family drive. Not only is this beneficial for your kids, but it will also incentivize you to step away from your devices more often.
Have Open Discussions
Another way to help combat too much screen time is simply having open conversations. It might be easier to tell your kids too much time on the iPad or computer is bad for them, but that can leave a lot of room for doubt, confusion, or even resentment. Instead, take the time to have an open dialogue with your children about the actual dangers and issues with too much screen time.
Blue light has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and reset our internal clocks. Remind them that it’s more difficult to tackle all their schooling and home responsibilities when they’re tired. You can also explain, in a child-appropriate manner, that online gaming, social media, and chatrooms can be dangerous for kids due to online predators. It might also be the right time to start explaining what and how addiction happens and why too much screen time, similar to drugs, can lead to an online addiction.
Look for the Warning Signs
Now might also be a good time to start looking more closely at your child’s behaviors while homeschooling. One issue that teachers can miss is excessive squinting or eye-rubbing. These are of course warning signs of a vision problem. Kids (and adults) can also experience eye-strain due to blue light.
As experts put it, “Blue light from computer screens and digital devices can decrease contrast leading to digital eyestrain … Symptoms of eyestrain include sore or irritated eyes and difficulty focusing. Studies suggest that continued exposure to blue light over time could lead to damaged retinal cells. This can cause vision problems like age-related macular degeneration.” If your child has vision problems and is now sitting in front of screens more than usual, it could lead to some serious vision problems in the future. It’s worth not only monitoring their screen time but also looking for warning signs of vision problems. Also, consider how your children are using their personal spaces. Older children, like teens and tweens, use their bedrooms for more than just sleeping — their rooms are study spaces and social spaces and should be designed for both adaptability and wellness. Flexible furniture and warm, dimmable lighting will let them enjoy activities without straining their vision.
Being aware of the impact of excessive screen time on your kids is the first step in combating it. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep kids at home and doing eLearning, maintaining a healthy balance of screen time will probably take extra effort, but will ensure your kids aren’t forming bad habits in the meantime.