The COVID-19 Letdown

Lynn JataniaI feel like I should knock wood when I say this, but it feels like maybe, someday, this lockdown might be over.

We’re still in rocky days as I write this, with active cases not dropping off as much as we all would like, and shops and attractions not as open as we would hope. But the vaccine is getting out there, albeit slowly, and some of the people we know have even received it already. Progress is being made, and we can start to dream of a time when life opens up again and we feel safer and more able to do the things we love to do.

But I can’t quite use the phrase “back to normal” when thinking about what it might mean when we’re all vaccinated and able to interact again. That’s because it’s been more than a year now of being mostly at home, pretty much all the time – and in that year, our rules about screens have changed a lot.

I think we’re probably not alone when I say that as parents, we’ve loosened up our guidelines on how our kids can use screens, and when, and for how long. Part of the reason is that they’re all another year older, and of course we want to gradually expand their responsibility and let them make their own decisions. Part of the reason is that we need to work, and without the ability to meet up with friends or go to their usual sports and activities, there are a lot of hours of alone time for them to fill. Part of it as well is that they’ve just been so bored as life has come to a standstill this past year.

But whatever the reasons, there’s no question that we have become parent slackers when it comes to screens, especially for our youngest (which, our oldest will tell you loudly and clearly, gets way more privileges than he ever did). The youngest is only thirteen, and at that age, her older siblings had limits on their screen time that seem laughable now. They had to get off their screens an hour before bed, they had to take a break after every hour of screens, and we closely monitored their online activity too.

But for her – as with our older two during this past year – there’s been a slow slide into a state of almost no rules. She’s still not allowed to use her device before school in the morning, or at mealtimes. But other than that, it’s a free for all. As long as her schoolwork is done and her grades are holding (more or less), we’ve looked the other way while she spends hours on her tablet, either watching YouTube videos or flipping around on Instagram. We still ask her in a general kind of way what she’s been watching, but she has so much more freedom, and definitely way more hours of exposure, than we would have allowed otherwise.

So what does all that mean for when things finally go “back to normal”? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Will we try to dial things back, and re-introduce our rules? Are we ready to have that fight?

Or can we say that she’s shown herself to be generally responsible online in this past year, and as long as she does well at school and spends at least some time returning to her old offline activities, we can continue to let her make her own calls?

Either way, it’s going to be a bit of a rough transition time, I think. We’ll all need time to figure out how the world works again, and what’s best for our kids. I imagine we will try to implement some kind of middle-of-the-road solution. Our youngest will likely always get more online privileges than our older two did (sorry, big kids), but I hope we can at least guide her towards more offline activities once those are more available to her. It’s all about balance, and we’ll all have to figure out how to restore it when the time is right.

How about you – have you let the rules slide in this past year? Do you think it’s possible to go back?

Related MediaSmarts resources:

Screen time and well-being – Fact sheet

Four tips for managing your kids’ screen time