Screen Time Rules to Keep in Mind While You’re Locked Down At Home

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As we spend more time at home, we’re spending more time staring at screens, but try not to stress about it. Screen time needn’t be bad time if you follow a few simple guidelines.

It’s fair to say family routines have shifted hugely recently. We’re working from home, schools remain closed, and we’re social distancing, meaning playdates for kids are on hold. And even though the end is in sight, we’re still facing weeks more of semi-lockdown.

During this time, it’s understandable that we’re engaging in a little more screen time than usual, but try not to worry about it. It’s not inherently a bad thing for eyes, minds and bodies if you stick to a few simple rules. 

New Zealand children have unprecedented access to tech such as phones, gaming devices and tablets. Over 80% of children aged between five- and nine-years-old spend two or more hours a day looking at a screen, according to a study by Netsafe. But international research also shows excessive use of screen-based devices can increase the likelihood of several health and behavioural problems. Up until now, we’ve all been focused on how we can limit our screen time.

The thing is, what we’re living through right now isn’t normal. COVID-19 has thrown regular routines and a lot of our good habits out of the window. Whether you’re a grandparent wanting to keep in touch with your grandkids, or a parent working from home just needing a couple of hours’ peace to get some work done, the chances are a screen has come in handy recently. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Don’t feel too guilty

A global pandemic isn’t something that happens on the regular. Start by giving yourself a break. Don’t throw out all the rules that you had in place for screen time, but you can definitely loosen them. As a parent, you’re likely trying to still figure out what’s best for your kids, but it’s okay to allow them more screen time than usual. It won’t hurt so long as you’re still interacting with your children throughout the day in other ways. No one is expecting parental perfection, especially since schools are now expecting kids to work online through devices.

Parenting expert Nigel Latta shared his tips for Kiwi parents in a post to Facebook earlier this month. He said that given we’re all stuck inside we should forget screen time limits: “Device time is quiet time. Embrace it. No permanent damage will be done.”

For kids: model healthy screen time habits

Kids copy what they see. It’s easy to become glued to your phone scrolling social media for updates, because they keep on coming. But it’s important we monitor our own screen consumption in front of our kids. Don’t give up using your devices, just be sure to model healthy device habits. You can do this easily by taking breaks from your device to engage with your kids, and modelling when it’s a good idea to be device-free (like when you’re cooking, eating, watching TV, or while you’re outdoors).

Use screens for human connection

Social connection is vital for children, especially at a time like this, and devices can help. Organise video chats with an aunty or uncle, a grandparent or family friend. This can provide some interaction that’s outside the family home: they could read them stories, or sing/dance with them to entertain them for a bit. Maybe you could coordinate a virtual playdate with another parent. 

Have no screen zones

Set up some limits of when and where your kids can and can’t use a screen. These are totally up to you, but might include:

  • Dinner time. Turn off the distractions and get everyone around the table at meal time. Keep phones and tablets away from the table. You’ll be able to focus more on your food and those at the table.
  • Playtime outside. When the kids are outdoors, they’re outdoors. Leave screens inside.
  • Bedrooms. Maybe you want to keep the screens confined to the living room, or somewhere you can monitor what your kids are actually doing on their devices, particularly if you have young children. 

Find ways to create, rather than consume

Technology is limitless these days. Kids can do far more than watch a screen passively from the couch. Instead, they can use technology in imaginative ways. Certain apps let them write their own songs, create art or build. Encourage screen time that’s more active than scrolling through YouTube videos.

Balance screen time with other activities

Try to offset screen-time with other activities that benefit kids’ brains and bodies. Too much screen time can also impact sleep quality, so try to reserve the last hour of your children’s day for device-free time (maybe for a board game or reading).

Set time limits on screen time

Setting limits on screen time can help. Be clear about how much time is allowed before kids jump on their devices to avoid arguments. Online connections are important, but remember that if you allow too much screen time, this may be difficult to manage when things go back to normal.

For all of us: eat meals without a screen

Consider making it a rule for everyone in the house to eat meals without screens. Especially if you’re working from home, try to take a break from staring at a laptop/monitor and break up the day with a lunch break spent outside, or at least away from your desk.

Limit your non-work screen time

Once you’ve finished your work for the day, how are you spending your time? Are you trawling through Instagram, bingeing Netflix or mindlessly scrolling news sites? Sure, there’s definitely room for that, but just be mindful of your screen use, so your eyes don’t become little squares. Where possible, ditch the screens, get outside, read a book, paint… take up that hobby you always promised yourself you would when you had time. Make finishing work for the day that little bit more exciting by planning something like a walk, bike ride or a bit of stretching/yoga. Those are all things you can get your kids on board with, too.

Exercise while watching

Who says you can’t get fit while watching Netflix? Why not incorporate a workout while you watch an episode of your current favourite series. If you are going to be watching a screen for more than an hour or two, combat feeling like a total couch potato and chuck some lunges or squats in there for 15 minutes. 

looking at iphone smart phone

Get rid of tech before bed

If you’re going to implement a screen-time curfew on the kids, apply the same rule for yourself, and avoid screen use an hour (or at least 30 minutes) before bed. Yes, it’s hard, and if you need to set an alarm for the morning, etc, of course make exceptions, but try to make a conscious effort to hop offline earlier and let your brain have a breather before it hits the pillow.

Of course, if you’re spending extra time in front of screens and monitors, you’re going to need the broadband data to power those hours. To compare providers just hit the button below.

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