Expert shares tips on managing kids’ screen time when home from school

How can parents manage screen time when kids are home for extended periods? Here’s what one expert says

Study Says Limiting Kids’ Screen Time Makes Them Smarter The study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health included more than 4,000 children between the ages of eight and eleven. The study found that 63% of the participants exceeded a recommend two hours or less of screen time per day. It found that when participants met the guidelines, their "global cognition" improved. "Global cognition" includes memory, attention, processing speed and language. Kirsten Corder, senior scientist Universit

Schools across the country are looking to “remote learning” in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. However, learning from home could mean an uptick in screen time for kids.

It can also be a tool to keep kids entertained and occupied when stuck at home for days on end. However, studies have shown that excessive screen time may damage the brain, especially regions responsible for emotional processing, decision-making, attention and cognitive control.

Managing screen time is something most modern parents spend time thinking about, but it can become even more of a consideration with kids home all day.

Nicole Beurkens, a clinical psychologist who often advises families on how to have healthy relationships with technology, said it’s important to establish other ways for kids to occupy themselves.

What do parents need to keep in mind about screen time?

Beurkens notes that while it’s important to keep some structure to kids’ days when they are home for an extended period, parents can also think of this time as an extended spring break of sorts or a holiday break. Meaning, kids may end up having some more screen time than they would on a typical weekday.

However, the goal is for it to not become the only option, Beurkens said.

To prevent that, she recommends having some benchmarks for kids to reach before they are able to engage with leisure screen time. Perhaps there are some chores to do first or a set amount of reading time.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while some schools may have kids doing some online learning activities, that too contributes to screen time.

“Ultimately, from a research stand point screen time is screen time. It’s all contributing to the time kids are spending in front of screens and digital media,” Beurkens  said.

If kids are online for educational purposes, Beurkens recommends parents insist on a break between that and any amount of leisure screen time.

“It’s important in the weeks ahead with kids cooped up, to be vigilant about having some movement breaks, some breaks away from the screen,” she said.

What are some other activities parents can look to?

Beurkens recommends parents come up with a list or “menu” of options for ways kids can spend their time. If possible, make this a collaborative process with a kid.

It can include things like playing with LEGOs, reading a book, riding your bike, taking the dog out — any non-digital activities. That way, when kids inventively profess their boredom, parents have a concrete thing to point to that can provide some options.

Parents can also get creative: in addition to breaking out puzzles and games, encourage kids to make up their own games or build an obstacle course.

Beurkens also reminds parents that being bored isn’t the worst thing, either.

“It’s OK for kids to be bored. It’s actually an important developmental thing,” she said.

What tools can parents use to manage screen time?

Beurkens, who is a mother of four kids, acknowledges that managing screen time can be a challenge.

“We all need to give ourselves a lot of grace with this. We really are the first generation of parents trying to navigate this,” she said.

She encourages parents to remember that while screen time can be a good way to keep a child occupied in the short term, it can actually cause more stress to parents.

“Over use of devices leads to worse moods, higher stress levels, poorer behavior in kids. So we end up creating more stress for ourselves,” she said.

Beurkens recommends parents lead by example. For instance, she advises having a carved out device-free time, like around the dinner table.

She also encourages parents to use some sort of software to track how much time their kids are spending on devices. She works with Qustodio, which allows parents to keep track of what kids are consuming and in what volume.

Ultimately, she says any effort parents make are valid.

“We can take some small steps and they can have some big impacts,” she said.