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The case for increasing screen time during quarantine

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

It’s normal to worry about your teen’s screen time usage, especially with research over the last decade pointing to screen time as a culprit in skyrocketing depression rates among teens. However, in the age of COVID-19, screen time norms should be reconsidered. Results from Pearson’s parent pulse report indicate that about 76% of parents in the US are removing screen time limits for their teens during COVID-19, as they believe the pros of technology outweigh the cons. In fact, 84% of parents think that technology is making their child more self-sufficient under the current circumstances.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of increasing screen time usage during quarantine and how to help teens develop a healthy relationship with screens.

There are two key lessons from research about teens and screen time usage (prior to COVID-19):

  1. Teens are expected to have at most 2 hours of recreational screen time per day for healthy development, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

  2. The majority of teenagers have definitely crossed that recommended limit. In fact, US teens spend more than seven hours per day on average for on-screen leisure activities.

If you were worried your teen spent "too much time online" prior to COVID-19, it has probably been even harder to keep your teen's screen time down during the past few months. However, if parents take a step back and see the situation through their teenager's point of view, screens are simply where their life is taking place now.

When we asked teenagers about their most pressing challenge in the last 3 months, the majority pointed to adapting to online school as their biggest stressor. Not only that, they also expressed how challenging it has been to be away from their friends and have limited options for outdoor activities. Since the usual offline activities are restricted and their whole life has now shifted online, parents need to judge the situation in a different light and take in information from old articles and findings on screen time with a grain of salt.

Experts have suggested that it is actually quite normal and healthy for teens to increase their daily screen time during this social isolation period, since the pandemic and lockdown may cause problems like post traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. There is a higher need for social interaction and the lack thereof can interfere with both mental and physical health. The majority of teens consider their friends as the main source of support and it is natural for them to reallocate their usual social time to online formats, whether it is gaming or video calling with friends. Recreational screen time can also help distract teens from focusing too much on the excessive amount of negative news that can evoke anxiety and affect their mental health.

However, as with everything, moderation is key. After all, the adolescent brain is more prone to developing mental health problems and forming bad habits, so creating structure is still crucial during these uncertain times.

Here are a few things parents need to keep in mind when it comes to helping teens develop a healthy relationship with screens:

Find the right balance between online and offline activities

Teens need to know how to prioritize tasks and understand the importance of meeting other basic needs before leisure and entertainment.

Besides prioritizing school work, adolescents should engage in physical activities for at least 60 minutes per day. This could be biking around the neighborhood or following a dance tutorial at home. As a parent, you can also encourage your teen to exercise by making it a family activity. This could be scheduling daily afternoon walks or plan family hiking trips during the weekend.

Parents should also encourage teens to turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime and have a "no phone at the table" rule. These routines teach teens good sleep hygiene and promote family connected time. For families who had these rules in place prior to the pandemic, it would be wise to continue to maintain them. For families who didn’t have these rules, now is a crucial time to start. By providing structure that helps everyone unplug, these rules help your teens stay mindful of their screen usage and maintain a sense of normalcy.

Quality over quantity

Instead of focusing on keeping track of your teen's daily screen time usage, it is more valuable to know how they are using that time. Quality screen time can be beneficial for both teens and parents. This could be having a family video game or movie night, or learning how to cook a new dish together through YouTube tutorials.

According to Skillshare, an online learning platform, the demand for its online courses has tripled since the beginning of the mandatory lockdown. Interestingly, people are increasingly counting learning new hobbies and skills as a form of productivity. Encouraging teens to spend their screen time on learning new skills or getting creative can also promote curiosity and self-exploration.

Lastly, go easy on your kid AND yourself

This pandemic is taking a toll on everyone’s well being and sanity. Therefore, it is important for parents to give themselves the time and resources they need for their own digital self-care. Apart from the amount of screen time dedicated for remote work, taking the extra time for screen-based entertainment can help parents destress and unplug from teen-related worries. By demonstrating healthy screen time habits, you’re setting a good example for your teen on how to manage work and play both on and off the screen.

If you’d like to chat with a coach about making your family’s screen time healthy and productive, Cherish is offering free coaching and curated community groups for parents with teens throughout COVID-19. If you're interested in a personal parenting coach with Cherish, please sign up here! We’d love to hear from you!

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