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Screen Time and Social Distancing

Balancing screen time at home looks different today than it did just a few short weeks ago before coronavirus hit the U.S.

Parents across the country are grappling with the news of COVID-19 while trying to work from home with kids out of school and nowhere to go. Social distancing from others is leaving many feeling overwhelmed with how to juggle it all. “I think the reality is to accept that it's a new normal right now,” says Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, medical director of the Greenfield Recovery Center and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UConn School of Medicine. “You're not going to be able to do it all perfectly well. It’s just not possible, and that needs to be ok.”

In many ways, screens are going to get us through this crisis—allowing for virtual meetings with family, friends, co-workers, and teachers, and keeping us connected to a world we can no longer explore IRL, at least for now. “This can allow for communication and connection socially when it's not a safe time for people to be huddled together physically,” says Dr. Greenfield.

Here are a few ways to balance healthy screen time with this new current reality in mind.

Allow for flexibility. “We've been recommending two hours a day of nonacademic screen time,” says Dr. Greenfield. “That's probably going to have to change for a while because screens are really going to be a large percentage of the entertainment and distraction these kids get. This is a time that calls for a little bit of extra flexibility,” he adds. Giving kids extra time to watch movies and chat with friends is reasonable—and shouldn’t be a source of parent guilt—but some rules should still apply.

Keep some family time screen-free. Kids need valuable face-to-face time now more than ever. Keeping screens away from the dinner table will continue to build the connection you need as a family. Screens in bed also delay and disrupt sleep, especially at a time like this. “There's no reason why you would be changing bedtime screen-time use or screens during meals. I would not make any changes to those areas,” says Dr. Greenfield.

Talk about the shift. Make sure kids understand that this is a temporary adjustment and that life will eventually return to more normalcy. “It's important for parents to talk to their kids about the fact that these are unusual times that require some flexibility and adjustment to the rules that have been set up and that that's part of life,” says Dr. Greenfield. For older kids, you can be honest about your feelings about the situation too. “It's important to share both elements of the message, and to punctuate whatever you say with hope, and that we are, going to get through it,” he adds.

Limit the news. There’s a balance between being informed and overwhelmed by troubling news. “Parents need to be mindful of the impact of the bombardment of bad news that they're hearing via all the news platforms,” says Dr. Greenfield. “There's a susceptibility to want to see all this bad news, but too much of it is not good for us either.” It can take a toll on our mental health, as well as our kids. Limit the amount of news that children are being exposed to whether you think they’re watching or not. “The way news makes its living is by keeping your eyes on the screen just like a video game does. They want you to keep looking at it,” says Dr. Greenfield. Checking in a couple times a day for updates is reasonable if you like, but avoid endless scrolling, especially at bedtime. (Circle Time Limits can help.)

Make time for old-fashioned fun. Exercising, crafting, playing games—this new normal has us figuring out ways to enjoy the simple pleasures in life while cooped up at home. Look for activities that are interactive, social, and fun, like board games, cards, puzzles, and even model building. “When you have an adolescent that is used to getting that immediate hit from a video game and then you say, ‘Well, you could build this model and it's really cool,’ [that’s a skill] that can be relearned, the patience that comes from engaging in a task that takes some time,” says Dr. Greenfield. “That's a skill that doesn't go away. It just has to be exercised.”

Want more ideas for indoor or backyard fun? Check out Circle’s 60 Simple Things for Bringing Family Together.


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