With the abrupt onset of virtual learning due to COVID-19, screens are pervading our children’s daily lives in ways that they never have before. Whereas, in the past, parents gained some solace in the fact that their child was relatively “screen-free” for 7-8 hours of the day while in the safe harbor of the classroom environment, that reassurance has faced a massive upheaval as the majority of students’ learning now takes place in the virtual medium. While this may trigger the alarm bells, I’m here to share why not all “screen time” is created equal, and how you use this period of virtual learning as an opportunity to engage in meaningful and proactive discussions with your child about the role that technology plays in their lives.
Be flexible and improvise
- As any therapist at CI Pediatric Therapy Centers will tell you, one of the biggest skills we aim to teach many of our young clients is “flexible thinking.” That is, the ability to recognize when something is beyond our control and, as a result, modify our own thinking and behavior in order to more effectively respond to an unexpected or undesired change. As a parent, this concept likely hits close to home, as wave after wave of unpredictability has come crashing in over the last several months. With this in mind, it may be that now is the perfect opportunity to thoughtfully consider the “why” behind your existing beliefs regarding screen time, and to explore new avenues to facilitate your child’s learning and growth using this modality.
Recognize the teachable moments
- Consider how screens impact you, a parent, and impart that knowledge to your child. Think of all the ways in which screens benefit you on a daily basis: navigating to the state park, reading a recipe for a family meal, video chatting with grandma at the nursing home, watching a quick “how-to” video for getting homemade slime out of the carpet. Then, consider how they can harm: cyberbullying, privacy concerns, feelings of anxiety or stress, disengagement from reality, exposure to content that is not age-appropriate. With these in mind, work with your child to set up boundaries while you explain the “why” behind them. Your child may not fully understand or agree with your explanation, but approaching this area as a conversation (rather than as a mandate) can allow your child to feel some autonomy while still maintaining your role as the decision-maker.
Move from passive viewing to active doing
- Concerned about the amount of time your child spends playing video games online? Before you rush to “shut it down,” take a moment to consider what your child’s gaming preferences are telling you. Are they fixated on games like Minecraft or Roblox? They are imaginative and innovative creators who may enjoy constructing forts or building an obstacle course. Can’t seem to pull them away from Fortnite? A family role-playing game (RPG) may be just the ticket to foster their knack for storytelling and world building. If all else fails, plead ignorance. That is, ask your child to tell you about their game; this is an excellent opportunity for your child to strengthen their narrative language abilities without even knowing they are practicing such an important skill.
Take in the greenery
- While screen time isn’t inherently bad, that doesn’t mean that a healthy dose of green time isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered during these isolating times. Take this opportunity to break the routine and do something new and exciting with your child. Practice coordination, gross motor, and language skills while you rent paddleboards or kayaks for a day on the lake and have your child tell you about what they see. Go apple picking and explore the kitchen as you make all sorts of fun apple-based recipes with your picky eater. The sky’s the limit!
- Just because we’re physically distancing, that doesn’t mean we have to be socially distancing. The unexpected arrival of COVID-19 has brought along with it a plethora of new opportunities for online engagement. A cursory Google search will tell you than many of your favorite card and board games have a newly developed online counterpart, many of which can be played with multiple individuals. Want to keep it simple for family game night? Group games such as Pictionary or Scattergories can easily be played using the whiteboard feature on your preferred teleconferencing software. Hoping to expand your child’s opportunities for social interaction even further? Check out the CI Connect classes and clubs that are hosted weekly by some of our amazing therapists and offer an opportunity for your child to engage with their peers in a safe and fun environment.
By: Ann Jonker, MS, CF-SLP