Kids and Screentime During COVID-19

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O.K., I’m just going to come right out and admit it, my kids have been watching more television during the pandemic. With three little ones at home, and my wife and I continuing to work full-time, something certainly had to give, and sometimes that unfortunately leads to increased screen time.

Screen time and kids has commonly been a challenge for parents, but with children home much more during the day and parents juggling work and homeschool schedules, it has become increasingly difficult to regulate. According to recent Nielsen statistics before COVID-19, children ages 2-1l in the United States viewed an average of 3.5 hours of television daily and I would wager that number has increased significantly over the past couple months.

We have heard all of the studies on the effects of extensive screen time in children and the links to violent and aggressive behavior, obesity, poor academic performance, and eventual abuse of drugs and alcohol. Given these realities, what’s a parent to do? Well, the first think I’d suggest is don’t beat yourself up if this is something you are also struggling with, as we are all operating in a new reality. Acknowledging screen time will inevitably increase for the time being is a good place to start.

Given this new scenario, what else can we do as parents to accept the likelihood of increased screen time while trying to utilize it more effectively? A recent article in the New York Times by Erika Cheng and Tracey Wilkinson based on findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested following the “Three C’s” when addressing screen time with kids. By paying attention to the personality and needs of the specific “child”, the “content” of the material being viewed, and the “context” in which it is presented can greatly assist the parent in determining what is appropriate for their child and the situation.

Another key is ensuring screen time does not serve as a replacement for important activities such as family time, personal development, and recreational activities. Children need time to play alone, with siblings, and outside in nature. Children also need time to talk, play and share feelings and concerns with adults, especially during troubling and uncertain times. Ensuring that television does not limit the time that children have to be creative and to explore their interests is also critical.

It is important that parents help children to use screen time as a positive and creative tool for learning, exploration, and communication. Parents should get involved and know what their children are watching, who they are chatting with, and understand the educational value and the age-appropriateness of the material being consumed. Parents may also use programs or videos as an opportunity for learning that can springboard into a science project, musical performance, or an outdoor activity. As a parent, try not to beat yourself up over increased screen time for your kids, especially if/when it’s one of your only options. The best thing to do is try and make sure what they are watching is appropriate, educational, and not overly excessive in duration.

Bill Stone is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.