Okay, let’s admit that everybody is struggling with this and everyone’s rules have changed. As I write this post at 7 am, my son, age 11, is already begging for his Switch. His teenage sister is posting to TikTok. And we haven’t even started with online school or the weekend birthday parties on Zoom. Given all the stresses of home life, it may feel impossible to control screen time. Yet, there remains a nagging feeling: Too much screen time for children makes behaviors hard to manage. It doesn’t make them happy, either.
We probably need to approach this challenge with two thoughts: 1. How can we improve what kids are doing and seeing online? 2. How can provide alternatives to screens?
Limits on screen time can be part a daily schedule, for establishing a consistent “battle rhythm.” A daily routine can guide and enforce the whats and whens of screens in your home. We recently heard from an elementary school principal that in his home, he is relaxing the rules on screen times to help kids adjust no in-person school. His suggestion: no entertainment, social media or gaming before lunch. Save the big chunk of online entertainment until after dinner.
Of course, to succeed at this, you will probably need to spend MORE time on screens yourself. You may have to learn new things. If you feel overwhelmed by technology or how to find things online, let your child help you navigate. However, stay involved with what your child is doing. Distractions online are always a click away.
Making online better for kids
So where is the good, educational stuff? Start here: Common Sense Media, the leading source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families and schools. Every day, millions of parents and educators trust Common Sense reviews and advice to help them navigate the digital world with their kids of all ages. Under the “Apps and Games” menu find “Best Learning Lists.” Remember how easy it is to wander from link to link. Stay focused!
Outstanding FREE Stuff
https://www.gutenberg.org/ Access to 60,000 free eBooks Everything from Project Gutenberg is gratis, libre, and completely without cost to readers.
Audible, a high quality audio book library is offering access to 1000s of books.
https://www.duolingo.com/ and talk and listen app with dozens of languages to try.
News and science
The Learning Network is good for middle and high schoolers. It’s like an online newspaper with ripped-from-the-headlines news and current events and help for understanding our world. The coronavirus outbreak might be the biggest event of kids’ lives. What can they learn from it?
https://xtramath.org/#/home/index Leveled math lessons for all ages
https://www.khanacademy.org/math The leader in online math learning and support
(A warning about math online: it can be highly frustrating for young learners, keep sessions short and try not to add pressure—every student will “fail” as they learn.)
Smithsonian Music lat https://music.si.edu/ Did you know that the Smithsonian’s combined musical resources constitute the world’s largest museum of music? This site, created for the 2019 Year of Music, taps into the Smithsonian’s bounty of educational resources, music videos, collection spotlights and more.
The Live and Music of Celia Cruz This “History Explorer” from the Smithsonian uses the great singer’s life as a learning opportunity.
Limit Overall Screen with Blocks of Unlimited Screen Time
Great. The day has been full of learning. As the blessed evening comes on, consider allowing more choices. Watch a movie together with some popcorn. Evening can be when kids get to choose what they watch or play, a prize/reward to look forward to at the end of the day. Use the promise of free screen time in the evening to motivate daytime cooperation and helpful behaviors. Keep in mind, though, that a big job for you will be ending screen time. Again, lean on your schedule. Set a time to turn in the iPad and phone at least a half an hour before bedtime. Don’t allow them to be in the bedroom overnight! Lock them up or keep them with you.
Ahh, and now for you
https://www.uclahealth.org/ucla-mindful, a mindfulness app based on university research. The app features about a dozen meditations of different types in English and Spanish. You can learn to focus on your breath, your body, or sounds; work with difficult emotions; and cultivate loving-kindness in sessions ranging from 3 to 19 minutes long.
Bonus — Some of our favorite YouTube channels
SoulPancake: good for middle schoolers with a menu of “brain batter” about art, culture, science, philosophy, and more. As the site proclaims, “We make stuff that matters.”
SciShow: fun, bite-sized science lessons things kids care about
It’s Okay to be Smart: another science channel, this one from PBS good for middle schoolers.