The coronavirus has meant that we are spending more time at home than we ever have. Children are doing their school lessons from home. Parents are doing their jobs from home. It’s crowded, it’s overwhelming and it’s exhausting. No wonder screen time rules have gone out the window.
The World Health Organization states that screen time for children aged between two and five should not exceed 60 minutes a day. Those under two should not be using screens at all, except for video chatting. For older children and teenagers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours per day. But does any of that still apply during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Of course, arguments over screen time and how much of it to allow are nothing new. They certainly pre-date the coronavirus. We now have a generation of people born into the digital age and even though the WHO guidelines are based on science, they were not designed with a crisis like this one in mind.
Here are some tips to help you and your children stick to healthy limits on screen time.
Let go of guilt
Of course, parents need to set rules and boundaries for a harmonious family life, but being too rigorous now will set you up for failure. And after all, children need a social life, too, and the only way to have one at the moment is via social media or video chats. They also thrive on routine, so establish a schedule for when they can and can’t connect with their friends – for example, no socialising until after they have finished their school work.
Enforce a screen-free zone
This is not necessarily a specific physical space, but more about stipulating when devices should be put aside, such as at meal times, game nights or any family activities. Banning screens from bedrooms is a good idea if you want your children to get a good night’s sleep.
Manage your time
With distance learning, kids already have the feeling that schoolwork isn’t mandatory. At school, time slots are allocated for learning and for breaks, so do the same at home. Allocate time for work, for meals, for getting together as a family and, of course, for screens. There is no strict model to follow – make a routine that works for you and your family specifically.
Be a model
The essence of parenting is modeling: demonstrating to your children what you want them to understand by your own actions. Use this method: teach, model, monitor, check results.
Content is key
Not everything on screen is mindless rubbish. There is some excellent educational content available digitally, too. Create a library of material that your kids will want to go to in their free moments rather than being sucked into hours of YouTube and Tiktok.
Whatever strategies you choose, try to avoid negative correction. And try not to be too hard on yourself. Hopefully, your children will come out of this crisis with a better understanding of what it means to be resilient and to observe and respect rules and limits – lessons that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Always remember: the pandemic is not forever. Until it passes, you’re doing your best.
Dr Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher and specialist in child development and health promotion based in Abu Dhabi.
Dr. Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi with a health promotion background who advocates for parents and children to have a healthier lifestyle. Her current research is about E-learning and child psychology. Through radio appearances, her profession and writing, she wants to change the world of children’s health one healthy tip at a time.