I remember being pregnant with my daughter (kiddo #1), and having very ambitious plans about what kind of parent I was going to be. Make homemade baby food? Of course! How organic. Sign up for a variety of baby/toddler classes? Yes, swimming and music galore! And screen time? No way! I’m going to be a totally involved, dedicated parent focusing on real-life experiences.
Fast-forward slightly to balancing work and life with a kiddo, and in comes the kid-friendly shockproof iPad case so we can start with Sesame Street and Chu Chu TV. At that point, we were still limiting the time to when I’m cooking dinner or taking a quick shower.
[Related: I feel no guilt about my kids' screen time]
Fast-forward a bit more to introduce kiddo #2, a global pandemic, a lifestyle shutdown, still working and balancing life, and trying not to lose my mind. (Thank you, iPad Screen Time Alert for reminding me how much my daughter’s use increased when that happened. Ugh.)
Obviously we are all trying our best just to survive right now. Most kids are at home e-learning, and most parents are balancing working from home with parenting and schooling at the same time. Times are not easy. So what is the right call these days?
The American Academy of Pediatrics — which, depending on the child’s age, generally recommends no or very limited screen time for kids — has recognized that kids’ media use will likely increase under these stressful circumstances. (See the AAP’s article on HealthyChildren.org’s COVID-19 link.) Among their recommendations are:
- Keep a routine
- Use screen time for positive, social connections
- Choose quality content
- Use media together
Recommended screen times are definitely fluctuating now, too. Obviously if you have a middle-schooler who needs to virtually attend classes, their necessary daily screen time is likely more than a toddler’s. But the recommendations for keeping media use useful and also balanced can be broadly applied across different ages. Our family’s pandemic pendulum is more or less in a balanced state, and thankfully it seems to follow the AAP’s suggestions. Here’s what it took to get us there:
Routine and schedule
When the lockdown started and we were going bonkers trying to figure things out, screen time was whenever I felt stressed or didn’t know what else to do. But it felt panicked, disorganized, and lazy to consistently use it that way. So we wrote up a schedule and had very specific times on when screen time was allowed. It’s still very useful when I need to focus on cooking dinner.
Positivity and socializing
We have all been Zooming and FaceTiming more, and when my daughter started asking to call her friends, it was a great way for her to feel like she had some control over her own socialization. Bonus: Watching two 4-year-olds have an in-depth conversation about how much they like mac & cheese is pretty cute.
This is really important to me. I’m pretty strict about being on YouTube. Kids can go down some weird wormholes watching videos of other kids eating gross food or strange adult hands playing with kids’ toys. We like Numberblocks and Cosmic Kids, videos of kids building with engineering-related materials. We also have total veg-out options, of course, like Disney+ movies on Friday nights and Saturday-morning cartoons.
Sometimes I sit with my daughter to chat with her about what she’s watching. Hearing her tell me about how multiplication works or how she is calming her yogi energy makes me feel reconnected with her, and allows her to process the information she’s absorbing and explain it in her own words.
Not in AAP’s guide, but equally important: Forgive yourself
As parents, we are often our own worst critics. There are times when I’ll need to jump on my computer when I’m wearing my Mom Hat and we are supposed to be having a no-iPad lunch. Guess what? Sometimes the schedule changes, and my daughter gets a bonus movie-with-PB&J time. Don’t feel guilty if it happens. Structuring your kids’ screen time within this framework can help you achieve a more successful balance in these crazy times.
Using media as a limited tool — or an emergency helper! — is very normal. You know that you have some time to focus on your own tasks while your kids’ brains aren’t turning into mush. And a no-mush brain is always a win for a parent!