Re-establishing tech and screen-time boundaries in the wake of the pandemic’s virtual free-for-all may seem like a tall task, but with a combination of offline activities and quality digital media, you can find ways to keep the kiddos happy and recharged.
Martha Picciao, founder and CEO of Whiz Kidz Preschools and a Scottsdale mother three, says she’s already started navigating the “what are we going to do now?” question. Picciao moved her kids — ages 14, 12 and 6 — from a school offering only online learning to an in-person school where they are doing much better, and she says a lot of parents “just want to see their child disconnect” from screens this summer.
Picciao plans to introduce them to volunteering to get them “out of their ‘funk’ and start thinking about others who are worse off,” she says, adding that it is important to be intentional with activities. “That’s a life lesson that, as I mom, I want my kids to contribute or give back.”
A healthy media diet balances three things: what kids do, how much time they spend doing it and whether their content choices are age appropriate. Mixing media and tech time with other activities will help families find a happy medium this summer.
There are several ideas on Common Sense Media’s WideOpenSchool.org for summer activities that are educational as well as fun. The site includes content from more than 75 partners such as Learning Heroes, Time for Kids, Education.com and PBS Kids.
Education.com tells kids in grades 3-5 how to help create a Family Movie Guide. Children in grades K-2 might like the PBS Kids’ “Make Your Own Thank You Card” activity. And The Be Kind School’s “Kindness Rocks” project shows kids how to decorate rocks with inspirational messages to leave in public places or to give to someone who may need them.
WishTrip just launched an adventure recording app that offers free interactive games for visitors exploring Phoenix’s Papago Park. The games, which follow Covid-19 safety protocols, are designed to provide families with an experience that combines both the virtual world and real park experiences. Although it is an app, only a parent or caregiver needs to have access to a mobile device to launch the games, so children can be completely tech-free.
When it comes to summer activities, Dr. Courtney Gaines of Terros Health in Phoenix says parents must make fun a priority. “One thing about children is that they want to do something they consider fun,” she says. “They also want to do things where they can interact with other children.”
Gaines signed her son up for iCode, a school that runs various camps where the students can learn how to create video games, become better streamers and YouTubers, and learn how to code. “He was so excited because he loves video games, YouTube and streaming,” she says, “but now he is the one creating the programs.”
Medical experts acknowledge the pandemic created bad habits for adults and children, so it is important to reintroduce more structure throughout the day, develop a healthy routine with screen-time limits, be active during the day and then get more sleep. “I would tell (children) to be active and to not miss the fun stuff,” she says, adding that children love to go to places and interact with other children.“I would also emphasize that just because we have to wear our masks, it does not mean we can’t have fun, learn and interact with others safely.”
Finding media balance
Keep media and tech use in check for younger children by following a few simple practices:
Create screen-free times and zones.
Help kids take breaks from tech by limiting screen time in bedrooms, during study time or at the dinner table.
Learn to set parental controls.
Set content limits that make sense for your family. Alongside conversations about healthy media habits, use features such as content filtering, privacy settings and time limits offered by the apps and platforms to help manage access and exposure to media.
Establish clear family rules.
A family media plan can help get everyone on the same page. Decide together what kind of media and tech is OK and when it’s OK to use it.
Watch and play together.
Choose quality, age-appropriate media to enjoy with your kids. Visit commonsensemedia.org to find shows, games, apps and more.
Explore built-in digital well-being tools.
Together with your kids, check out the features on their devices and in their apps that can help them use tech more intentionally. Consider turning off autoplay functions, limiting notifications, using settings that turn off devices at a certain time each night and more.