Source: Keirsten Marie/Flickr

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, were you worried that your children were spending too much time on screens? Now that they are stuck at home 24/7, are you still concerned? In polls taken in 2018 and 2019, the number one health concern of parents in the United States and Australia was excessive screen time in children. In May 2020, we don't need a poll to recognize how the coronavirus has become the predominant health concern across the globe. I suggest that the use of video games to keep kids at home, occupied, and not stressed out over the coronavirus pandemic might be helpful.

I'm not ready to say that video games are likely to be curative in helping to fight the coronavirus. However, I agree with the World Health Organization that playing video games is one tool among many that can assist with the social distancing necessary to fight the coronavirus spread. However, before you give your kids free access to video games and other screen-based technology 24/7, please consider how to create an environment for healthy screen use during this time.

Here are five tips for healthy screen use during the quarantine:

  1. Promote “Whole Play.” Leverage your child’s love of tech-based play to promote other activities. Whole Play is defined as play that consciously combines screen-based play with other forms of play. Think about Whole Play as analogous to whole grains that are packed with nutrients. In the case of Whole Play, kids use their screen-based play to engage in other play activities, and complex play is one of the best ways for kids to learn. For example, playing video games with friends from school facilitates social skills and interactions in the classroom. Whole Play could also include playing exergames, which require players to exercise, or making videos for YouTube that necessitate creativity and social awareness.
  2. Use screen time to build a new healthy habit. The data suggest that it requires 66 days to develop and maintain a new habit, and it looks as if we are going to have at least that much time for the quarantine. Use a fitness trainer to get in the habit of doing 10,000 steps a day over the next two months or a to-do app such as Microsoft To Do (formerly Wunderlist) or Google calendar for help with organization and planning. Get into the habit of checking the calendar every day and inputting daily schedules for exercise, practicing a musical instrument, or doing homework. This will help both kids and adults have more time for discretionary activities.
  3. Learn and develop an interesting new skill. As with habits, learning new skills takes time, and the current necessity to stay at home provides an opportunity to develop a passion. Contrary to popular assumptions, most passions are developed over time and require time for sustained engagement. For instance, you could use your child’s interest in screen-based activities to develop new skills such as computer coding. Explore an expansive set of live, online classes with passionate teachers on Outschool, where kids can dive into subjects such as watercolors, Harry Potter, video editing, or neuroanatomy. Learning how to code on the computer could be done readily while playing games such as Roblox or Minecraft or by using apps such as Scratch or Tynker
  4. Find a screen-based family activity you can do together. Your kids will be happy to show you how to play some games so they can beat you! Become movie critics, watching remakes of popular older movies you grew up with, then watching the original. Talk about the differences in stories, themes, technologies, and what you enjoyed most about each movie. Watch a movie that is based on a book, then read the book (although I might suggest starting with the book if you can convince your child to do so). Watching and discussing movies from different decades that have similar themes such as science fiction, horror, or adventure movies can also be fun for family time.
  5. Make screen time very social. Of all the healthy ways you might use screen time during the quarantine, connecting with family and friends on a regular basis is the most important. One of the biggest concerns about the quarantine is how isolating it can be for kids. Therefore, it is healthy to encourage kids to use screens to communicate with their friends in live-action types of activities including video games and chats. Do the same thing with family members. Set up regular Zoom or Google Hangout chats with relatives. You might be surprised that you are able to do things you would have been unable to do in person, such as display what you made for dinner or how your living room looks following your paint job.
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