What a year it’s been! Looking back to last March, when closures of nearly everything from restaurants and gyms to schools and even parks began to domino, the world has changed dramatically… especially the entire education system. And Apex Leadership Co. gives major kudos to the way education boards, educators, and administrators have recreated education in a virtual way given very little (let’s face it zero) advanced notice.

However, with the way school has been conducted over the past year with many learning online, as well as the closure of extracurricular activities, after school programs, sports classes, and even summer camps in many cases, the amount of time that students are spending in front of the screen has largely increased. In fact, even just a little over a month into the pandemic last year, a survey conducted by ParentsTogether showed that almost half of American children were spending more than six hours a day in front of a screen. This proved a whopping 500 percent increase in usage prior to the rise of COVID.

While online classes take up a portion of that time, the study also reported that children spent most of their beyond-class screen time on sites such as YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok, not educational sites. An article in the New York Post reported that parents feel “mandated remote learning is creating an insatiable appetite for additional screen time once classes conclude,” adding, “More than half of parents [in the study group] are worried that their children are or will become addicted to online activity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

How to Encourage Balance Screen Time?

Parents with students that are still schooling online or that want to instill more balance in their children’s screen time can encourage them to get up and move during in between classes and during lunchtime. These mini-breaks allow students to physically step away from the screen – giving their eyes a break and their bodies a chance to move. Depending on their age, this time can be used to do a few jumping jacks, help prepare their lunch or organize materials for their next class.

While many parents are now tasked with juggling their work from home while trying to help their children manage online schooling and monitor additional screen time, it’s important to set a daily schedule to help create natural breaks in screen time. For example, after the school day is done (whether on campus or online), build in some non-screen time for an hour or two. During that time, encourage kids to play outside (when the weather allows!), read a favorite book, build a fort, or engage in (non-electronic!) toys.

Some parents may also choose to limit screen usage outside of school to a specific amount of time each day or allow it only on weekends. These restrictions can be developed within each family; however, when doing so it’s important to present new guidelines for usage not as a punishment (some students that are used to no restrictions on their screen time may claim this as some sort of torture!), but rather an opportunity to explore and try new things.

Schoolgirl Studying Math During Her Online Lesson at Home

Speaking of which… limiting screen time is wondering opportunity to help students create new hobbies or interests. Puzzles and board games may be played out since the onset of the pandemic, but there is a multitude of other activities kids can do that do not require screens. Think of hobbies that also develop skills — such as coloring and drawing or singing and dancing (put on some tunes and encourage kids to dance or create choreography to the music). Physically active children may enjoy creating an obstacle course in the backyard or at a park or playing a simple game of soccer with other kids in the neighborhood.

Another fun way to help foster new interests while building in some family bonding time is to plan a weekly activity. This could be as simple as trying a new restaurant in another part of town, going on a hike, taking a ski lesson (or spending a day sledding!), going to a museum, or playing mini golf. The options really are endless — and it’s fun to involve the whole family in the selection process (either by voting, drawing options out of a hat, or allowing everyone in the family a turn to choose what they want to do).

Leading by example is truly one of the greatest teachers and parents can also benefit from limiting their own screen usage. With so many careers dependent on time in front of a computer or on smartphones, adults can be impacted by the over-stimulation of today’s digital age too. Considering setting a “shut downtime” for all electronics (yes, this means TV too!) for everyone in the house at a specific time every night. For example, once 8:00 p.m. rolls around, all phones are silenced, and the TV and other screens are turned off. This then gives way to quiet time that encourages healthy sleep patterns. Consider this a good time for families to get together and chat about their day or talk about plans for the week. Instilling a routine shut downtime also allows everyone the proper time to prepare for the day ahead. This time can be spent taking baths or showers, making the next day’s lunches, setting clothes out for the morning, and simply relaxing without the stimulation of a screen.

When it comes to balancing screen time in today’s age of digital learning, it’s important not to put too much pressure or stress on students (or on one’s self). Everyone has had to navigate some tricky and unforeseen situations since the onset of COVID so recognize that and transition into new screen time limitation rules with some ease and grace.