Feeling Guilty About Extra Screen Time? Experts Share Some Positives for Parents

I’m convinced the moment my 2-year-old wakes up on Saturday morning, he is the most excited about the cartoons he’s about to watch. My husband and I have always been on the same page regarding screen time for our son, and we’ve kept to those boundaries relatively well during the pandemic. But, come Saturday and Sunday morning my son is soaking up as much Paw Patrol, Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street, and Doc McStuffins as he can.

Sometimes I’m really grateful for these shows, especially when the clock hour says 6 a.m. and it’s the weekend. Other times I feel incredibly guilty. As an adult, I know what it feels like to be sucked into binge-watching a show and quickly clicking past the passive aggressive “Are you still watching?” prompt from Netflix. But, I find myself wondering how bad screen time actually is for my child, especially during this pandemic when a moment of rest or a break is hard to come by.

 

Sometimes I’m really grateful for these shows, especially when the clock hour says 6 a.m. and it’s the weekend. Other times I feel incredibly guilty.

 

For the most part, we don’t allow any screen time during the week. The few moments before our son goes to daycare and before bedtime are precious to our family, and we want to spend that time being intentionally connected. Does he still ask to watch TV during the week? Of course. But we firmly repeat our boundary and then offer up another activity instead. Once the weekend rolls around though, my energy is often low from working and parenting and I, too, look forward to him watching his favorite shows while I pour another cup of coffee or just lay on the couch alongside him.

This pandemic has completely uprooted the many routines families had in place before the world shut down. While parenthood doesn’t leave a ton of room for excessive relaxation, I think we can all agree it was a bit easier to find before stay-at-home orders were in effect. Many families have loosened their grip on screen time, whether due to remote learning or just to get by.

 

 

With this increase in screen time, I’ve also heard an increase in the guilt from parents associated with relying more on screens. These same parents may also be on the brink of burnout, have multiple children to tend to, work while helping their kids with remote learning, or just simply need a break—I don’t blame them.

 

Parents may also be on the brink of burnout, have multiple children to tend to, work while helping their kids with remote learning, or just simply need a break—I don’t blame them.

 

So, have expert guidelines on screen time changed at all since the pandemic? I talked to Dr. Becky Kennedy, clinical psychologist, consultant, and parenting guidance provider. I knew she’d have some advice on screen time to share with me and other parents—read our Q&A below!

 

Since the pandemic began, has the data or guidelines surrounding screen time usage for children changed or shifted at all? If so, what’s different now?

 

I think all parents have to believe that it’s gone up from a point of necessity. We don’t have the same amount of school or childcare for kids, the separation between work and home isn’t the same, and so I have to imagine screen time is going up related to parents’ understandable need for more space and time for themselves.

 

There is often a negative tone to conversations about screen time for children. But what are some positives to screen time?

 

The most positive aspect to screen time is that parents need to know that they have some amount of time that they can take care of themselves. Whether it’s “I need to respond to emails” or “I need a long shower” or you just need to sit and do nothing but give yourself a moment to breathe. I believe screen time is helping parents feel less depleted and a little sturdier. The impact of that in someone’s family is huge.

 

 

Is relying on screens for younger children now setting them up to be addicted to screens and technology in the future?

 

It’s not that too much screen time would lead to addiction, [but that] it gives kids a lot of pleasure and entertainment from something that requires zero effort. Long term, one of the things we want for our kids is [for them] to be able to work hard and take on challenges. So, one of the dangers of screen time is that for younger kids’ bodies, it begins to associate success and enjoyment with something mindless and easy like screens.

 

What do you recommend to parents who want to set some healthy screen time boundaries or limits?

 

Parents should take a team meeting approach, engage [their] kids, and work with them. No matter how old your child is, sit them down and explain that you know they love screen time and that you even love when they have screen time, but also share that it’s important to do other things as well like art, building, puzzles, playing outside, etc. The conversation can then go into creating a schedule and an amount of screen time that feels good to both the parent and the child. This is important because rather than dictating a decision, you’re co-creating a solution together with your child.

[And] not all screen time is the same. If you’re saying to yourself, “I really need to give my kids extra screen time,” remember you don’t have to give your kids free rein. You can approach the situation with, “yes, you can have more screen time but this is the only thing it’ll be,” and then share what type of screen time you’re willing to allow.

If your kid begins to protest and says, “No, I want Roblox,” [I suggest reminding them you are in charge, but are giving them choices. You can say], “Right now, I am in charge of what screen time you get, and you are in charge of whether you want to do what is offered, or none of it. That is up to you and let me know what you choose.”

 

What tactics can help stem the “screen time is over” meltdown?

 

It’s also really important to work on emotion regulation towards the end of screen time. When it’s time for screen time, talk to your kids about the feelings they’re going to have at the end of it. It’s not that you don’t want your kid to be upset, but rather you want to prepare your kid for the upset feelings that will inevitably happen at the end of screen time.

 

 

What advice or comfort can you give to parents who need to rely on screens for their kids to help juggle work, multiple children at home, or other duties?

 

The biggest thing parents can work on right now during this pandemic is their own self-compassion. It feels hard because it is hard.

 

The biggest thing parents can work on right now during this pandemic is their own self-compassion. It feels hard because it is hard.

 

In terms of screen time, remind yourself that this is not you lowering your standards, this is you adapting to a new situation (i.e., parenting in a pandemic), and adapting is a sign of strength, not weakness. And when you give yourself that self-compassion, over time you end up getting a little more energy once in a while to engage in a different way with your kids.

 

Still feel guilty but still need a break?

Set your kids up for independent play, an essential part of childhood development. I talked to independent-play expert and owner of Workspace for Children, Lizzie Assa for some suggestions for parents to foster independent play with their kids.

  • Don’t interrupt your child’s play (yes, it counts as interrupting when you ask them what they are playing)⁣⁣.
  • Remember that play looks different for different children. You do not have to micromanage their play. Looking at books, playing with toys, staring out the window thinking, or singing all count as play.
  • Understand your child might be conditioned to having you play with them or for them. Trust that they can play independently, but know it will take some time and practice on your end.
  • Resist the urge to swoop in and rescue when the whining about boredom occurs. They need to get to the other side on their own. That is where the magic is, but they have to open the door on their own in order for the magic to work. ⁣⁣

Number one tip from Lizzie? “Remember that independent play is good for your children—it is not something to feel guilty about. Entertaining your child 24/7 leads to parental burnout, something none of us need on top of everything else right now.”

 

Read More: Experts Agree: Play Is the Work Your Child Needs to Be Doing

 

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