As a parent to a very energetic 9-year-old, you can imagine my facial expressions when I found out that schools across the United States were being canceled for at least three weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). First, my mouth dropped open in shock. Then, I started to panic as I realized all the things I would need to do to successfully keep my child home for 3+ weeks. I love my kids, and I love having them home, but working a full-time job while watching them run around with endless energy? I’m not in love with that idea.
It has been almost two weeks now of having my child home all day, every day (literally 24/7). I’m not going to lie—he has watched a lot of TV. He has had a lot of “tablet time,” and in moments of exhaustion, I have definitely yelled, “FINE, just turn on Peppa Pig!”
During this time of social distancing and self-imposed isolation, I’ve really started to see the need for increased technology boundaries while my child is stuck at home. It is so tempting for me to just hand him the tablet with the YouTube app open, assuming he will only use it for Peppa Pig. And because I am still trying to work full time, I am not able to be monitoring his device activity like I normally could.
To make matters even more challenging, a popular porn site is offering free premium access worldwide, until April 23. They are making it even easier for children to search, access, and watch porn, all while sitting on the couch in plain sight. Yes, even my 9-year-old. Children are curious humans, and all it takes is one click. That’s what these porn sites want: just one click.
The most effective solution would be to just put the tablet away for good and encourage my kiddo to play outside all day or read books. Unfortunately, for many parents, that’s just not a realistic option right now. So, I want to offer up a few ways that we have been balancing screen time, safe Internet use, and a daily routine, all while stuck within the confines of our home.
1. Establish an hour-by-hour schedule.
If your kids have attended school up until now, they are probably used to a schedule. Teachers in the classroom schedule each school day by the minute. So imagine how chaotic it can be for your child if they are now home all day without a routine.
In our home, there are specific blocks of the day set for screen time. Because my child knows that he has scheduled TV/tablet time from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., he doesn’t fight me to watch it the rest of the day, nor does he try and “sneak” it when I am out of the room or on a conference call.
We also schedule other activities throughout the day, including outdoor play, quiet time, and chores (with a bit of attempted homeschooling mixed in). It has amazed me how well my kiddo responds to this routine, and how little he now asks to watch TV or play games on my phone!
I would also consider implementing rewards when your child does follow the schedule. My son knows that if he makes his bed before 9 a.m. and cleans up his toys before 8 p.m., he will earn points towards a reward. He also has the opportunity to earn additional points throughout the day, based on our hourly schedule. This points system has increased motivation and resulted in a happier home! I have shared a sample below of our daily schedule, if you’re looking for an example to get started.
2. Implement extra safety nets surrounding technology use.
This can be a challenge if you are trying to work and make sure your child is staying out of trouble online, but it is so important, especially with the uptick in porn usage during this pandemic. When my child uses his tablet during our scheduled time, I require that he sit next to me at my desk, so that I can keep an eye on his screen while working myself. And when he watches TV, I keep control of the remote, even if he is just watching a “kid show.” I want to be 100% sure that he will not even stumble across porn, because you know that most porn sites are making that even easier right now.
For other devices like phones and laptops, Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability is an excellent tool for monitoring your child’s technology time. We use this as an additional safety net in our home, and I know that even if I have to step away from watching my child for a few minutes, Covenant Eyes has my back.
Most devices also offer extensive parental controls that will help you to feel at ease while your child is online. For all children, we recommend that all devices stay out of their bedroom and remain in an open space. Even my 9-year-old knows that all technology he uses must remain in our main living space.
The fact of the matter is that your child may just end up watching more TV and playing more games on their phone or tablet than they normally would. Do what you need to do to get your own work done, and if this means implementing more screen time than normal, don’t feel guilty about it! I have formed the mindset right now of, “it’s not how much my child watches, but what they watch.” This situation won’t last forever, so as long as you are taking steps to keep your child safe online, no one is going to judge you for taking full advantage of that Disney+ subscription!
3. Avoid a total freak-out.
Alright, I know this one seems a bit off-course to my other two suggestions above. But I think that staying calm is incredibly important when stuck at home, whether you have one child or 10! It is so easy during this time of chaos to become overwhelmed and stressed. This is normal. I feel it, the whole world feels it—so you are probably feeling it too.
You might be worried about your child’s education. How will they keep up with their grade level if they’re not in school? Or, perhaps you are feeling what I am right now and stressing about how to keep your child entertained in ways that are creative and don’t involve hours of Peppa Pig (can you tell that I really don’t like that show?).
I have good news for you! Kids are amazing. They are brilliant, resilient, and resourceful. They are going to be okay if they miss school. Everything will be just fine if you need to let them watch more TV than usual. They will not lose brain cells or forget how to read!
However, they also are going to be experiencing their own form of stress and emotions during this time, so offer extra grace and patience to them as they adjust. The first week at home, I really struggled with patience. I just wanted my child to adjust immediately to the new routine and continue on with life as usual. I failed to understand the fact that I’m not the only one struggling with this change; my child is too! Realizing this and extending extra grace and love has made our second week at home much less stressful.
There is no better time to connect with your child!
Amidst the chaos of lockdowns, toilet paper shortages, and trying to work while your children are home from school, there is a diamond in the rough! Now, more than ever, you have an incredible opportunity to grow your relationship with your child(ren) and connect with them on an emotional level. I would encourage you to take the extra time spent at home and spend it with your child. It can be as simple as playing a game together or starting a new book as a family. Or, you can take a further step and initiate conversations with your child. How are they feeling? What are they struggling with most while being at home? How can you improve as a parent during this time?
We are all in this together. COVID-19 has proven to be a challenge for parents and kids alike, but let’s use this time of quarantine to grow as parents while keeping our kids safe from the dangers of technology.