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If you have children, chances are they’re spending more time online or in front of a screen than they have in the past. And now, with many schools starting the year either partially or fully virtual, you may be concerned about balancing screen time with other activities. As a parent, it’s hard to know when to draw the line.
Although it’s important to maintain some limits on media use, it’s also reasonable to expect that your kids’ screen time will increase while the pandemic continues — and while their options for other activities, like recess and group sports, are minimal. You may not have much control over that reality.
But what you can do is help your kids make the most of the time they’re in front of a screen. And you can also help them find creative ways to fit in other activities.
Start With a Family Media Plan
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents create a family media plan and offers a template to help you get started. Developing a plan can help you think about how your family’s media use fits with other daily activities, such as sleeping, exercise and family time. And taking a realistic look at how your family spends screen time can help you set limits.
Use the AAP tool to calculate each family member’s screen time, come up with a plan and then implement it. You can even print it out and hang it in a prominent spot in your home for everyone to follow. As your family’s needs change, or as the world around you changes, you can go back and make revisions.
Take Time for Recess
Set up a daily schedule that includes regular breaks from screens, sort of like a family “recess.” Use this time to get up and stretch, play or walk around the house, yard or neighborhood. Let your family members take turns choosing an activity.
According to the AAP, you may want to schedule a 10-minute break after every 20 minutes or so of class for younger children. Older children and teens can usually go longer before needing a break — perhaps aim for a break between classes or subjects. And don’t forget to pause the workday to have lunch together, without screens.
Foster Online Learning
While the internet offers plenty of ways for kids to mindlessly pass time, it can also be an educational tool. There are many resources for online learning that are fun and help educate kids while they’re watching. Ask your child’s teacher for recommendations related to their class curriculum. Or try trusted options like PBS Kids or Common Sense Media, both of which offer educational activities, craft ideas and homework help and tips for kids of all ages — as well as resources and ideas for parents.
Fit in Longer Workouts
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids ages 6 and older need at least one hour of exercise a day, and those younger than age 6 should be active throughout the day. Try to build at least an hour of exercise [VA1] into your child’s schedule each day. Head outside for a walk, bike ride or ball game. Just be sure to follow social distancing rules.
Take a Field Trip
Most kids will be missing class field trips this year. But you don’t have to forego this activity altogether just because you’re home. Plan a family trip to a local park, museum or historic site. Or take your family on a virtual field trip. You can now “visit” many interesting places online, including the National Parks, the National Gallery of Art and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Connect With Others
Encourage your kids to use screen time in a way that promotes connection and interaction with others. For example, when visiting friends and family in person isn’t an option, help your kids use social media or video chats to stay in touch. Have a dance party with friends or watch a movie with grandparents. The possibilities are endless.
Set Screen-Free Zones and Curfews
The APA recommends scheduling time away from your screens every day for other important activities, such as sleep, family time and exercise. For example, keep phones out of bedrooms to charge for the evening, shut down all media use by a certain time each night, and ban devices during meals and other family activities.
Help Your Child Transition Off the Screen
When it’s time for your child to turn off the screen, help them transition to a new activity. For example, if your young child is watching a cartoon on TV, encourage them to act out the storyline with their toys instead. Setting a timer or giving verbal warnings before screen time ends can also help ease the transition.
Set a Good Example
Even if you’re working at home, curb your own screen use during family time, meal times and before bed, and find ways to connect with your child. Read a book together, take a walk or just talk. Your child will follow your lead.
Find Other Activities for Your Family
Help your children find other ways to entertain themselves that are age-appropriate. Some ideas include:
- Having fun with independent play, such as building a fort with blankets or role-playing with dolls
- Making art like drawings, paintings and crafts
- Playing board games or doing puzzles
- Reading or listening to audiobooks or podcasts
- Writing in a journal about their experiences during this time
Keep Your Own Stress in Check
Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone. As a parent, it can be hard to balance the needs of your family with work and the stress of day-to-day life during a pandemic. So it’s important to keep an eye on your own mental health and get support if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
Stay Informed About Coronavirus
Information about COVID-19 is changing often. To make sure you’re taking the steps necessary to keep your family safe, check in with your doctor and pediatrician and follow recommendations from trusted sources such as the CDC and state health officials.
You can also find a wide range of information, including the answers to frequently asked questions, on our Coronavirus Resource Hub.