It was the dreaded question: “How much screen time does your child get a day?”
That might have sparked anxiety in some parents pre-pandemic, but with virtual learning and social distancing, digital devices are now a way of life. The last day of August marks the new distance-learning school year for thousands of students around the Washington metro area and more will join in the coming weeks.
“It’s an interesting space that the kids are in this year,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith.
Patton-Smith is an adolescent and child psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in Northern Virginia. She has some advice that might surprise parents: Once the virtual school bell rings, don’t rush to unplug the computer.
“As a parent, if you’re just looking at the total time, you could say, ‘Hey, you’ve been on the computer for six hours, we’re done for the day.’ I think what’s important for us to keep in mind is yes, that is a long time, but this is school for right now, this is what we’re dealing with, this is what we have to accept."
"And for typical growth and development," she adds, "kids need that socialization on a regular basis. So, if we have that 30 minutes to an hour of the socialization clock, which is still most likely going to be virtual, it’s important to keep that in mind."
Think of it like two clocks, one for school and one for socializing. It’s almost like internet recess. And just like on the playground or in the cafeteria, students aren’t left unsupervised. Parents need to carry that caution at home too.
“With everything moving virtually when it comes to classrooms, do you think there is a higher prevalence for more internet bullying or is it just too early to tell right now?” asked ABC7 reporter Victoria Sanchez.
“You know, that’s a great question,” Patton-Smith said during a Zoom interview. “I think the jury is still out. Definitely, I think the conditions are such that there is a risk and as parents we need to continue to be very aware, acutely aware of that. We probably need to expect the possibility of more as opposed to less.”
Patton-Smith suggests parents should talk with children about virtual school and internet ground rules early on or even before the new semester begins. The conversation can also be a place for kids to give their screen time suggestions. The talk should be phone-free.
“The best thing we can do as a parent is not necessarily tell our kids but show our kids,” she said. “If a parent is consistently on a screen on a regular basis and kids are seeing this, even though they are telling their kids that they need to take breaks, it’s important for parents to take a look at what they’re doing and what they’re showing.”
Need help creating a plan? The American Academy of Pediatrics has a free, Family Media Plan form and screen time calculator that can help.