Working remotely has placed all of us on our screens more. My eyes, back and head hurt! For months, screen time has been our lifeline to our family and friends, work and learning. Adults and children are on screens to connect with our families/friends, to learn, to play etc. And with remote or hybrid learning most likely here to stay to some degree for the 2020/2021 school year – even with lessening restrictions – our students will remain on screens. Helping students manage the amount of screen time they have is and will remain a daunting task.
I often talk to parents about what goes into their day for healthy living (i.e. exercise, sleep, work, play, outdoor time, etc.). We can add things like responsibilities/chores, alone time, down time, family time, etc. A child’s day also consists of routines, activities, chores, sleep, outdoor time etc. This becomes even more critical as we think about all the ways we are using screens nowadays.
To help manage screen time for our kids, it is important for parents to set boundaries and guidelines around screen time and clearly communicate the specific activities they do on screens. Create a clear way to communicate about screen time:
- “Friend Time/Social Time”
- “Family Time” (talking with relatives, playing Pictionary over Zoom)
- “School Time” (Math, ELA, etc. – whether it be asynchronous or synchronous)
- “Down Time” (i.e. meditation apps, sleep apps, etc.)
- “Free Time” (the child’s choice with parent guidance)
- “Indoor Exercise Time” (movement apps, online exercise shows or classes, etc.)
By creating a clear and common language around screen time/use within your home, children will better understand what their role is within each of these blocks, and communication related to screens becomes easier. Children and parents can talk more clearly about what the child is doing, what the child should be doing, what they want to be doing, and about learning expected behaviors and limits around each specific time. For instance, during family screen time (talking with grandma and grandpa), it’s okay to be wearing your pajamas or be in bed, but for school screen time, this is not okay – the child needs to be dressed and at their designated workspace.
Establishing some guidelines, expectations and rules around screen time also allows parents and caregivers to talk with their children about healthy living and responsibilities (i.e. getting outdoors, exercising, eating, chores/responsibilities, relaxation, etc.) and how all this fits into a day. For example, 30 minutes of exercise is part of every day, playing a board game as a family is a part of every week, doing chores and completing daily living routines (dressing, brushing teeth, etc.) are a part of every day, reading a book or being read to happens every day, etc.
To help children understand and comply with screen time and use guidelines, Create a screen time agreement/contract jointly with your child. After explaining the above distinctions, guide them to figure out what goes into each category. The types of activities, games they play, who’s on the calls, etc. and what the expectations are for each. Take notes during this brainstorming session to then create an actual agreement/contract from those notes. Make sure to include rewards and consequences. There are “have-to” or “non-negotiable” activities that parents want children to do. Make these clear to the child, especially about the number of warnings they receive to get off of a device when prompted. Use and make sure your child knows that parental controls exist and that you will use them as well as time- tracking technology to help them be successful in meeting their goals, getting their rewards and being a great family member. Make sure there are screen time-free zones/hours (no one in the house is on a screen). This helps the child develop and learn non-technology-based entertaining behaviors. Everyone agrees to and signs the contract.
Finally, you might want to create creative/imaginative time activities, quite time activities, among others, to round out your child’s development. Get a hold of screen time before it takes hold of you and your child. Screen time can be a very slippery – even dangerous – slope for all of us these days. Help your child and yourself to be more mindful of the amount of time you are using screens and for what purpose. Good luck!
About the Author
NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.
Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.
To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.