Social media and screen time during a pandemic

Photo of Lynn JataniaWe’re living in a strange and uncertain time. Already, as parents, we’re feeling our way to the right set of rules and guidelines for screens and social media. But now that we’re facing an extended time of quarantine and social distancing, the rules are bending and changing every day.

On one hand, we are grateful that we can still stay connected with our friends and family while respecting the government’s guidelines. Our kids can chat with friends online, or send them texts and funny memes. They even play video games with them, while they all hook into a conference call and join each other in online gaming rooms. They can video call with their grandparents and they can update their Instagram and they can blog. All of these things are really helping ease their fear and deal with the isolation so long as we’re sure they’re getting good information: we’re making sure that they double-check news they get from social media against reliable news outlets or public health authorities.

We also have an endless stream of content to consume. There’s all of YouTube, plus we have all the services – Netflix, Crave and Amazon Prime – with countless shows and movies to binge. My husband and I are able to work from home – another miracle of our times – and so the kids are kind of on their own with their screens all day long.

Right now there are so many unanswered questions, it’s hard to know what kind of limits to set. Should we help them feel less afraid by giving them unfettered access to screen time? Or should we set some limits now – because if this goes on for a long time, it’ll be hard to backpedal later on? It’s just one more area of uncertainty right now.

For now, we are implementing our summer rules for screens, which are:

  • One hour of screens at a time, followed by at least an hour’s break
  • No more than three hours of screens per day (exceptions: if we are all watching a TV show or movie as a family)

Will these hold? I’m not sure, but one thing that is helping is to give them a list of other things to do to keep busy. I made a list for them to choose from, including:

  • Read a book or magazine
  • Assemble a Lego set
  • Do a puzzle or play a board game together
  • Bake a treat or make lunch for the family
  • Clean out their closet or any other cabinet/drawer in the house
  • Go for a walk or run around the block
  • Take on a sewing project or paint a picture
  • Write letters or draw pictures to send to their grandparents
  • Catch up on school work (some very kind and hardworking teachers have sent them some assignments, which I think is awesome)
  • Practice driving (for my seventeen-year-old G1 holder)
  • Build something with tools
  • Research summer jobs and apply to some

Don’t forget you can use this time to make media, too. Activities like coding, animation, and making videos are all creative activities you can do with free sites or smartphone apps that can be done by one kid or a whole family. You can even have a virtual screening when you’re done to share what you’ve made with friends.

Do you have any other screen-free ideas? Or are you going screen free-for-all during these challenging times?

Resources on screen time

Explaining news and media coverage

Activities to try with your family