Inspire Your Kids to Unplug and Reconnect

July 20, 2021

Inspire Your Kids to Unplug and Reconnect

For the last 15 to 16 months, shutdowns and social distancing have been the cause for many parents to ease screen-time limitations previously allowed to children and teens. We have had to rely on technology more whether it is meetings on Zoom, distance learning or binge watching three straight hours of Netflix. Yet, there have been downsides. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics determined patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network were nearly 2 percent more obese compared to normal years. It has also pushed children to be more reliant on streaming, gaming and social media than ever before.

The vaccine has now allowed families, especially with children over 12, to leave the house. And now that the United States is opening, schools and camps are finally in person. It is the chance to ween children off virtual reality and back to real life. The question is more how to do that rather than when to do it.

As JF&CS Child and Adolescent Psychologist Ina Enoch says, “Face-to-face interaction is so much more important for children today, especially those that are socially anxious.”

There are many reasons in-person relationships are important, including:

  • Being able to see beyond a head on a screen
  • Learning body language and other social cues
  • Teaching them how to thrive in different social situations
  • Finding out how to socialize in groups builds self-esteem
  • Getting kids outside and moving around helps their health

How to
Limit Screen Time:

“It is important that children learn social skills that they are not able to get on Zoom,” says Ina. “But for some children you have to go slow. If they are not socializing with other children, they might not want to leave the comfort of their home. If you just ask them to go outside one hour a day, invite friends over or attend a camp for just one week, that can be the first steps they need.”

Ina also recommends limiting screen time. “While many children today talk to their friends on social media, they need to be encouraged to see their friends in person. Being on Tiktok or gaming for hours is not healthy.”

You can teach them to budget their time. Many experts recommend having a bank of time they can use. If their bank is two hours a day for their favorite show and they don’t use it, some of that time can be used the next day. Or if they use up their bank for the day, there may be ways for them to earn more screen time such as doing chores, reading, volunteering, working or playing outside.

Ina also suggests you sit down with your children and discuss the new limits on screen time. Explain that you know that this is how they often interact with their friends. I am doing this because I want you to be active, healthy emotionally and physically and socialize with friends in person.

When Children Resist

The initial shock of limitations will probably be perceived as worse than reality. The longer children have gone with eased restrictions the harder it is to tighten those restrictions. If parents can be consistent and strong, children will succumb at some point.

How can parents enforce the rules when many children will try to sneak a video or a game or find a different way to be on social media? Ina states “You can say, ‘I trust you. I know you’re responsible. Being on games or watching Tiktok all day is not an option.’” Letting them know that you are starting in a place of trust is important, but if they break that trust there will need to be consequences.

Ina also recommends giving children as many alternatives to screens as possible. “They are going to say, ‘I’m bored,’ ‘I don’t have anything to do,’ as a reason they need screens. So, give them something else to occupy their time.” She recommends giving them ways to use their creativity, volunteer, do physical activities or chores around the house and use teaching videos to learn a new skill. The important thing is that they find something they enjoy and may develop a passion.

Family time can also be a great distraction from screens. As Ina says, “One of my biggest fears of Covid being over is that there will be less bonding time and family activities. That was such a silver lining of the pandemic because families spent more time together. They found things to do because they were all at home together and built in that family time. My biggest concern is that those will fall off now that families are going back to their normal routine.”

When to Seek Help for your Child

There are children who have anxiety and/or depression and use screens as a way not to have to interact with peers in person. Those children may need more attention and professional help. If you need assistance, please reach out to the JF&CS Frances Bunzl Clinical Services. We have counselors that provide guidance and support for children, adolescents and adults dealing with a broad spectrum of issues.

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