Helping Children Through the Screen-to-School Transition
Tips for reducing child screen time.
Posted October 21, 2020
This post has been co-authored by Karissa DiMarzio, M.S.
Over the past eight months, many parents have had to manage being a homeschool teacher and remote worker, all while juggling the usual stress of parenthood and, oh yeah, that pandemic thing! As children are transitioning back into school, parents may be wondering how to help their children adjust to this “new” routine and especially how to reduce the amount of screen time they’ve become accustomed to over quarantine. The Child and Family Well-Being (CFW) clinic and lab has a few suggestions to help parents with this transition:
Use tech to your advantage. Using Apple’s Screen Time or Google's Family Link app can be a great way to help limit screen time (e.g., no more than two hours a day, no screen time after 8 p.m., or only 30 minutes a day of social media) and specific content (e.g., needing parents’ permission to use YouTube or blocking inappropriate websites). If your child is used to having open or unlimited screen time access because of COVID-19 (we promise, no judgment here!), start by reducing their use by small increments every few days and replacing that time with reading or educational activities. You may need to say things like, “When you read for 15 minutes, then you can get more screen time.”
Make sleep the #1 priority. One of the biggest reasons for screen time having a negative impact on children’s well-being is that it can compromise sleep duration and quality. Make sure to limit exciting or emotionally charged screen time in the hour before bed - that means Stranger Things and Fortnite—and to remove phones, tablets, and game systems from bedrooms at night. Depending on your child’s school schedule, you may also want to consider setting earlier bedtimes for children as well as waking them up earlier in the morning. Start small (e.g., waking them up 20 minutes earlier every few days) to get children used to going to bed and waking up at the times they will need to when school returns to its normal operations. If it’s helpful, try saying something like, "If you are in bed by nine, then you can have 30 extra minutes of screen time tomorrow."
Don’t forget you. Parents are juggling a lot right now and often with limited assistance. Make sure you are checking in with yourself regularly. When you notice you're starting to feel overwhelmed with everything you’re juggling, it's ok to occasionally use screen time to give yourself a break. During times of stress, it's especially important to prioritize things that support your well-being—like a healthy sleep schedule, calming cup of tea, video chat with friends, or mindfulness exercise through apps like Headspace or Calm. Also, if you find yourself getting sucked into the news or panic-filled social media feeds, try setting a limit on how long you spend checking the news or Facebook each day (maybe 30 minutes or less).
We hope you find these suggestions helpful as your family makes the jump from screen to school. Remember: Every family is different. The key is to open a dialogue on tech use and to try out different strategies until you find what works best for you.
Karissa DiMarzio, M.S., is a third-year doctoral student in the clinical science Ph.D. program and a member of the Child and Family Well-Being Lab (CFW) at Florida International University.