Schools across the country in SA, and countries abroad, are on shut down due to COVID-19. Many children are now spending most of their time confined to their homes.

Between the television and online school work, children will be spending more time staring at screens, which is not the healthiest.

Screen time can be part of a healthy lifestyle for children when it’s balanced  with other activities that are necessary for your child’s development, like physical play, reading and socializing with family. Getting the right balance also includes making sure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep.

Our tips below can help you encourage your child to use ‘screen time’ in a balanced and healthy way:

Make rules about screen use

You can help your child find the balance between screen use and other activities by working with your child on some family rules with regards to screen time. Besides the plethora of monitoring apps and screen time apps available, it is important to have your children be part of the decision-making and taking responsibility to manage their screen time which builds trust and holds them accountable. Don’t let this become a shouting match and an argument. Have very clear rules that the family as a whole understands and agrees to. Mum and Dad – this is a time for you to stick together and set the example. Be clear, that as adults, you have times outside of their times, that your devices will be used for work etc.

Your family’s rules might cover:

  • where your child can use screens – for example, only in family rooms or not in the car
  • when your child can use screens – for example, mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or no screen time before school or until chores are finished
  • how your child can use screens – for example, for making animations or checking a netball shooting technique or coding exercises, but not for playing Candy Crush or games – have strict guidelines on games.
  • how you handle screen time for children of different ages – for example, there might be some games that your older child can play only when her younger sibling is out or has gone to bed.

It’s OK if your rules include time limits to help your child balance screen time with other things like physical activity. For example: children should have at least one hour of physical activity every day.

Aim for short screen time sessions

Getting up and moving around is important for your child’s energy levels, development, sleep, and overall health and wellbeing. It is suggested to encourage your children to take a break every 30 minutes and use screens in short bursts.

You can do this by encouraging your child to:

  • use a timer to set breaks
  • do something active when the timer ends, like play outside
  • make use of natural breaks in screen time – for example, encourage your child to do a body break like get up and walk around the house when they finishes a level in a game.

Get your child moving, especially outside

It’s a good idea to encourage your child to play outside several times a day.

Outdoor play doesn’t have to be a big deal. For example, young children enjoy ball games or climbing a tree. Active play and physical activity for school-age children can happen indoors as well as outdoors. It can be simple things like dancing, doing star jumps, or throwing and catching balls.

Imagine and create

Creative play like telling stories, playing word games, dressing up, baking or drawing is good for your child’s creative development. It helps her learn how to experiment, think, learn and solve problems.

Reading and storytelling with your child promotes brain development and imagination

Avoid screen time before bed

School-age children need 10-11 hours sleep a night.

Using screens before bed can affect how quickly your child falls asleep. If your child avoids mobile phones, tablets, computer screens or TV in the hour before bed, she’s likely to get to sleep more quickly.

Keep screens out of bedrooms at night

If you keep mobile phones and other devices out of your child’s bedroom at night, he won’t be able to stay up late playing games or messaging friends. This can also stop your child being disturbed in the night by messages or notifications.

The important thing to remember is: moderation, supervision and patience will help your family get used to the new way of life for this time and create safe screen time rules.

This quarantine period could also give people a chance to use their imagination on how to have fun without a screen!

We would love to hear from you about how you have managed screen time in your family and what has and hasn’t worked in the comment section below.

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