How to balance your kids’ screen time with virtual schooling

BOSTON — For many kids, going back to school this year will mean grabbing their Chromebook and parking themselves at the kitchen table.

Combined with video games and smart phones, this will mean a lot more time in front of a screen.

Even before the pandemic, trying to keep kids off electronic devices was a losing battle for many parents.

When remote learning kicked in last spring, one survey found that screen time increase by 50-60%.

“When the pandemic first started, we thought it was going to be a sprint, and our advice to parents was, you’ve got enough to worry about, don’t worry about the screen time issue,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Now, Golin has changed is mind.

As technology is getting more deeply ingrained in education, he fears it could be hard to get back other facets of a child’s life.

“What we want, particularly with young children, is to make sure that they’re getting all of the things that they need in life. That they’re getting enough time for creative play, to run around outside, to read with their parents, to interact face-to-face,” explained Golin.

Historically, TV has always been knocked as a bad influence on the development of a young mind.

Now there are so many other devices vying for the attention of children.

Dr. Michael Rich, the Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s hospital, believes media has evolved and people shouldn’t just automatically think of all screens as toxic. Instead, he said it’s time to think of these as powerful tools that need to be used mindfully.

“I think the concept of limiting screen time is a holdover from the days of television when it was the only screen, and with a few notable exceptions, all it did was entertain and divert,” added Dr. Rich.

As remote learning has become more of the norm, Dr. Rich thinks parents need to realize it’s not the same experience as gaming or texting.

“That it’s a very different concept than kids just vegging out in front of the television,” he explained.

As children hunker down in front of those Chromebooks, Dr. Rich explained ways parents can help maximize their child’s experience with remote learning.

“It’s important to get kids on a schedule, that they get enough sleep at night, and they get up in the morning to do their classes,” he said.

Breaks for physical actively are a good idea.

Finally, try to create a dedicated workspace for a child, even if they’re using the same laptop or tablet for school as they do for gaming.

Golin knows remote learning is an essential part of the short-term solution for education, but he doesn’t want to go so far down this road that it’s hard to ever get back.

“We really need to find ways, even in this time, to find some sense of balance,” he said.

The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood recently issued a statement with three dozen other advocacy groups. They’re asking school districts to focus on as many high engagement, off-line projects as possible, even as teaching remotely takes center stage this fall.

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