While Waldorf schools typically do not encourage screen time for young children, the past few months have been extenuating circumstances where we’ve had to make exceptions simply to get through the days.
About 3 billion people are locked down worldwide, with nearly 90 percent of students cut off from school, according to UNICEF. With parents working at home and children learning remotely, screen time has become a lifeline – connecting teachers with their students, children with their friends, and families separated in isolation. How can parents who might normally limit screen time feel good about allowing it during this unprecedented time?
First, let’s look at screen time for its benefits at this unique time:
- Computers, tablets, and smartphones are now channels of connection. Children can chat and play with friends via video.
- Screens prevent us from feeling isolated and alone during quarantine. This is an instance where mental health is protected by remaining connected however possible with beloved friends and family.
- Not all screen time is bad. Educational websites provide learning opportunities. Now is a great time to build digital literacy and citizenship (like we teach in our Cyber Civics curriculum for middle-schoolers!).
- Talk with our children about how to be a good Digital Citizen – be polite, kind and respectful online; stick up for others when unfair language or behaviour occurs; tell an adult when you receive strange or odd messages or photos; and do not forward texts or photos without permission.
Now, how to become ok with increased screen time?
First, embrace boredom! While many scary and sad things have happened due to the coronavirus, there is good in this quieting down, too. Before the pandemic, many of us followed busy, packed schedules. Allowing children to feel boredom can lead to discovery and creativity.
At a time when the entire planet is closed for entertainment and interaction, the Internet provides access to learning, play and connection. Here’s another take.
What’s more, studies show that it’s more important to monitor what a child does online, than how much time she spends there. Parents can and should set new parameters for screen time, including:
- The types of activities and websites that are allowed
- Children checking in with parents periodically – or parents surprising their children with their presence during screen time
- Finding opportunities for children to connect with friends and family online
- Choose online activities that encourage physical activity – like exercise or interactive games
- Talk daily with your children about their online experiences – make it a family conversation!
It’s ok to set boundaries and limits even during this time – but go easy on yourself if the rules you set are looser than they might be during normal circumstances. It’s still wise to limit young children’s exposure, and when it comes to older children, now is the perfect time to ensure their digital literacy. Regular conversations and engagement with their online journey will help set them on a healthy course for future online use.