Find a parent, any parent during this pandemic, and most will tell you it has been, and continues to be difficult. Kids at home. Working parents. Virtual learning. There's iPad's, computers, televisions, Nintendo's, video games and social media.
As the pandemic continues on, parents and doctors are noticing that kids are getting entirely too much screen time. Experts say, rather than place guilt or blame upon yourself or your family, take this time to develop a healthy relationship with technology.
Dr. Jenny Radesky is an expert on screens.
“This topic touches a nerve in parents, and it's because we are all under so much pressure. We have unprecedented levels of expectations of what we do to keep our kids happy and well behaved and our society healthy and we as parents can’t change those structural forces that mean we need to keep our kids inside and using screens a bit more," said Radesky.
"I admire parents for saying, 'this is a problem. I’m willing to talk about it, I’m not going to sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away, I want to talk about how hard this is,' this is an unprecedented level of challenge for parents right now," Radesky continued.
Radesky is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. She's a development and behavioral pediatrician who does research in her "free time." She says that research "focuses on mobile technology, indirective technology and how kids and parents use it.”
Parents, she says, are like pressure cookers right now. She recommends putting it all out there and talking tech in family meetings.
“It's a conversation, it's complicated. Parenting can never be captured in sound bytes. It's so complicated, it's so individual, it needs to be a deeper reflection about what your experience is as a parent," Radesky said.
She recommends making a plan to ease up on devices when society opens up a bit. Maybe take a parental break too. For now, setting some limits can help.
Dr. Catherine Jordan, a Pediatric Ophthalmologist, says she's noticing the impact of that increase of screen time on her patients' eyes.
"The American Academy of Ophthalmology has come up with the 20-20-20 rule," Jordan said. And, it's a good start. “The rule is basically: every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break by looking 20 feet in the distance.”
She also recommends taking some time to blink.
“The term is digital eye strain. It's not a diagnosable code, it's not in the chart as a diagnosis, but digital eye strain is a well-known term that we use for kids that have symptoms of blurriness, pain, tearing, redness, headaches,” Jordan said.
Jordan says if you're using electronics for learning, try not to use them in your free time.
Radesky reminds parents, know that some of the excessive use has nothing to do with you. She says big tech needs to step in and take some responsibility.
“I don’t feel bad talking about regulation, even a children’s design code- a code of ethics- 'no you’re not allowed to have strawberry shortcake pressure your child to make an in-app purchase'- not appropriate.”
Have honest conversations as a family about what's good tech and what's bad. And, take it easy on yourself. Help your kids see that we're all in this together.