The COVID-19 pandemic has made it unsafe for millions of students across the country to return to in-person classes this fall, which has forced parents to weigh their options of distance learning, homeschooling, or finding a private education alternative. Chances are, remote learning has forced your school-aged children to be on the computer each day, logging into Zoom meetings, online discussion forums, and utilizing educational websites to complete coursework. Parents working from home must also be in front of a computer screen for the majority of the day. Given this major shift from strict screen time limits to a lifestyle almost entirely dependent on technology, how exactly are parents supposed to manage the amount of time their children are in front of screens?
Although it is important for children to spend time away from the computer, distance learning has made this particularly challenging. Students are required to log into daily Zoom classes and use platforms such as Google Classroom to manage their online learning. In addition to all this time spent in front of the computer, children have also been forced to spend much more time indoors, which has given way to even more time on screens as children use video games, social media, and streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu to pass the time. For parents working from home, screens are both a menace and a saving grace - technology helps keep the kids calm and entertained, but too much screen time is detrimental to a child’s development.
Limitations on screen times are proven to be beneficial to children. Research shows that kids who spend unlimited time in front of a screen are more likely to develop eye problems, have trouble with reading and language, and struggle with weight issues. Even so, screens are often the only way children can interact with friends, family, and teachers given the current health crisis the country has been facing since earlier this year.
Here are a few risks of too much screen time:
- Decreased physical activity
- Eye problems such as myopia
- Lack of social interaction
The dangers of too much screen time primarily revolves around the fact that children sitting in front of screens all day are spending most of their time in the same spot, not getting adequate movement and exercise throughout the day. Sitting for extended periods of time can actually alter the body’s metabolism - changes that may one day lead to a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Myopia is a vision problem that occurs when you have trouble seeing items in the distance. Staring at a screen for extended amounts of time might lead to near-sightedness and other eye problems. It is still unclear what the long-term effects might be for children who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a computer screen, although taking frequent breaks, periodically looking away from the screen, and wearing blue light blocking glasses may help alleviate some of the problems that arise when children are forced to be in front of screens.
How does this impact younger infants and toddlers?
With older children engaged in distance learning, and parents working from home, it may be even harder to manage screen time with younger children and babies these days. However, because most of a baby’s brain development occurs during the first two years of life, the American Academy Of Pediatrics encourages parents to set strict limits on screen time for babies and toddlers. They advise that children under age 2 have no screen time at all, and that children 2-3 years old should have no more than one hour a day of screen time.
This can be challenging during pandemic life, though. Your baby is likely surrounded by screens, from computers, to tablets, to smartphones, to televisions - and it may seem impossible to shield little ones from screens altogether. The good news is that not all screen time is created equal. Research shows that parents who engage in screen time activities with their babies and toddlers can ward off the negative effects of too much screen time.
For example, parents can:
- Play an interactive puzzle game on a tablet with their baby
- Watch a children’s television program about letters and numbers
- Talk with their toddler while flipping through a children’s e-book
- Look up children’s songs together on YouTube and sing along
- Watch a movie about colors, and then go on a color scavenger hunt outside
- Do a video call with a family member or friend from daycare
The important thing for parents to remember is that even though times are challenging right now, it is still important to set limits on screen time. Allow older children to use screen time during designated hours of the day, but don’t allow for unlimited access to phones and computers. With babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, try to engage in screen time with them and find interactive games and movies to enjoy together. Encourage your children to spend plenty of time in unstructured play, getting outside and engaging in physical activity for at least an hour every day. The more parents are involved with their little ones, the better the outcome for their learning and social development.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.