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Parents: How You Can Balance Home and Screen Time for Your Kids

July 22, 2020

5 expert tips to help you harness the positive power of the internet.

With schools across the world closing to contain the spread of COVID-19, parents have been faced with the sudden and unprecedented challenge of educating their kids at home. Many are also juggling work commitments and the financial, mental and physical health repercussions of quarantine.

The good news is that you're not alone. Almost 90 percent of students globally have been cut off from school as a result of containment measures. More good news: The Internet is helping us stay connected and maintain a sense of normalcy in these extraordinary times. 

So how can you harness the social and educational power of the online world while making sure your family remains healthy and safe? The key is not how much time kids log in front of a screen but how that time is spent. From virtual book clubs and digital literacy lessons to the importance of being kind to yourself and processing your own emotions as a parent, here are five expert tips for finding the right balance:

1. Ensure Kids Stay in Touch With Friends

new UNICEF report highlights the importance of children being able to communicate and play with friends. Setting up a video call lets kids share and process their feelings with their peers, and creates a sense of calm and control in times of uncertainty. To add an educational element, try organizing a virtual book club or study group. The ability of technology to transcend geography opens up previously underutilized opportunities, too, like having a bedtime story read by grandparents who live far away. 

2. Talk Openly with Children and Observe Their Mood 

Social media and video games offer an interim distraction from everyday life and a chance for social interaction, according to the UNICEF report. And while many parents harbor concerns about the negative impacts of such platforms, they can address these risks and reduce them by close monitoring and open dialogue. The report recommends “talking to your children about their online experiences, making sure they do not play games intended for an older audience and observing their general mood and happiness as they play." 

3. Use Games, Videos to Stay Physically Active

Both UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) point to the potential of the digital sphere to help keep adults and children physically healthy at a time when they can't go outside to exercise. Since quarantine began, the Internet has been flooded with fun and engaging workouts and replacement physical education lessons aimed at all age groups. Age-appropriate, active video games are also a good option for getting kids moving.

4. Teach Digital Literacy

The pandemic is accompanied by a so-called “'infodemic" of misinformation. Against this backdrop, it's almost inevitable that your kids will stumble upon questionable information while online, and it presents a unique opportunity to break down the complex topic and enhance digital literacy. For more on this topic, take a look at Cox's recent piece on teaching kids media smarts during breaking news, download this handy Data Detox Kit for young people and check out Google's comprehensive media literacy curriculum designed especially for children. 

5. Give Yourself a Break

Screen time is not a negative in and of itself. Many parents feel guilty for allowing increased screen time at the moment, and that they're not doing enough for their children. Remember that you're doing your best with a bad situation. You're likely to feel a range of responses to this situation, and while changes to a parent's mental health can sometimes affect children and their well-being, this doesn't mean you need to hide or fight those feelings, either.

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