Since the pandemic, we don’t see each other much anymore and many parents are worried kids are not getting enough social interaction right now.
According to Anthony Mattas, Neurologist Dayton Children’s Hospital, technology has allowed kids, teenagers and adults to stay connected when it hasn’t been possible to be present physically. Mattas also points out that connecting through technology (more than just texting) when we are not able to see each other in person, also helps build, “effective verbal communication which is a crucial skill needed to succeed in the professional world.”
Life and Tech Balance
But where is the balance? Limiting the time kids use tech has been a focus of many organizations including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both organizations have shared the detrimental side effects of too much tech and the goal to limit it at home. They have both also shared their recommendations on their website regarding the amount of time kids engage in using tech. Prior to COVID-19, limiting tech may have felt difficult in your home and now living during a pandemic makes limiting tech even harder.
Many kids are accessing their education using tech during remote learning, they might be participating in extracurricular activities through Zoom classes and completing assignments in Canvas. Then when their remote schooling is completed, they may be asking to play Brawl Stars, Fortnite, or another tech-based game or asking to watch television, adding to the amount of time they are accessing screens each day. As the weather begins to cool and kids are less likely to be outside playing, while being physically distant of course, parents now more than ever, are juggling tech for entertainment, tech for learning remotely and how to incorporate socialization. One option is using technology, but how do you balance too much tech and socialization while living through a pandemic?
Creating a Tech Plan
The AAP reports that, “today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.” One way the AAP recommends managing technology use in your home and helping kids make appropriate media choices, is to create a Family Media Use Plan for everyone in the house. By creating a plan for every member in the family, parents can model appropriate use of media and show kids that they are also following the same plan. (Access the Family Media Use Plan at healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx.) A Family Media Use Plan can help all family members track their current use of media and the purpose of that use. Is tech being used for learning an appropriate amount of time each day? Are your kids overusing tech for entertainment and underusing for socialization? These are some important questions to keep in mind.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizes that managing screen time can be challenging for families. They also recommend making a screen-time plan and offered the following guidelines:
- Until 18 months of age, limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
- Between 18-24-months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
- For age 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
- For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
- Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
- Learn about and use parental controls.
- Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters or to stop tantrums.
- Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
Creating a family screen time plan can help families map out times of day that are tech-free, such as mealtimes, time where tech can be used for entertainment and what options are available during that time. For example, is Fortnite allowed or not allowed in your house? The tech plan can also outline when tech is used for school and if your children can do internet searches for school without you or will you require that they be done when you are present? Helping your kids with internet searches when they first start out helps ensure that they are accessing the internet appropriately. This also allows you time to embed instructions on how they can remain safe while using the internet, such as not clicking on pop ups, not sharing personal information, etc. Your family tech plan should also outline how tech will be used for socializing. It is important to also keep in mind what apps are socially appropriate for your kids’ age. For some age groups, Messenger Kids, for example, is age appropriate, while for older age groups, TikTok is more appropriate. You also need to decide how important your child’s socialization is. For example, you may not be a fan of TikTok, but if your child’s peers are all using it and your child is not, they may begin to feel isolated and left out. Outlining in a family tech plan how TikTok may be used, for example with an adult nearby, may reduce your stress about your child using it while giving them the chance to interact with their peers.
Tech-Free Social Play Date
Need some non-techy ways for your kids to socialize and have safe play dates? Greater Cincinnati offers plenty of that!
- Lily Pad Play; 2008 Madison Road, Cincinnati, Oh; lilypadplay.com
Requires everyone over the age of 2 to wear face masks. Group size is limited to 16 kids.
- Dig N’ Play; 9405 Cincinnati Columbus Road #8, West Chester, Oh; dignplay.com
You can bring your own crew for two hours of private play time in their 10,000-square-foot facility. Book online or e-mail email@example.com for a weekend spot; $100 for up to 10 children.
- Park Play Date – Take advantage of the sunnier days, and meet at a local park. Check out the new playground at Heroes Park in Fairfield, for example, or bundle up and hit the local trails.
- Ride Bikes – Meet up with friends and ride bikes along a bike trail or hit the bike park in Lebanon, Oh; lebanonbikepark.org/home
Increase Socialization – Remotely!
- Zoom; zoom.us – Use your webcam to meet or chat
- Evite; evite.com – You can now add video chat to any invitation for a fun social distancing celebration
- Messenger Kids; messengerkids.com – A free video calling and messaging app for smartphones and tablets. Parents manage the contact list, and kids control the fun. Kids can keep in contact with close friends and family while using fun-filled features like filters and stickers.
- Flipgrid; info.flipgrid.com – Recommended by Caitlin Huxel, innovation specialist at Lakota Local Schools, Flipgrid is a simple, free and accessible video discussion experience for preK to PhD educators, learners and families.
- Gizmo Watch from Verizon – Not ready for your child to have a phone yet? The Gizmo Watch has two-way voice calling and messaging, so your techy kiddo can stay connected with up to 10 trusted contacts of your choice.
“It’s our responsibility as parents to keep a handle on how our kids use technology to help them develop healthy habits as they grow into adulthood,” says Mattas.
He continues to share many tools available to help with this:
- Microsoft Family Safety (Windows & XBox); account.microsoft.com/family/about
- Apple Parental Controls (iPad, iPod, iPhone, Mac); support.apple.com/en-us/HT201304
- Apple Screen Time Limits (iPad, iPod, iPhone, Mac); support.apple.com/en-us/HT208982
- Disney Circle (Internet Filtering); meetcircle.com
- Playstation Parental Controls; playstation.com/en-us/explore/ps4/parental-controls
- Amazon Freetime (Kindle); amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=15282065011
Ensure media works for your family and their best interest instead of against it.
“Media should work for you and work within your family values and parenting style. When media is used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise unplugged downtime and sleep.” – AAP