How to manage your children's screen time in the coming weeks

Posted on: 30 Mar 2020

Victoria Playford, head of The Mulberry House School, offers advice to parents on how they can help their children balance their time on and offline while schools are closed.

As we launch our ‘home learning’ platform for pupils from The Mulberry House School in London, it seemed like a good time to share some advice on screen time for those parents and carers who will be overseeing children at home across the country.

I am sure many of you are slightly daunted by the prospect of the weeks ahead with your children. Many of you will be concerned about overseeing your children’s work while also trying to complete your own work at home. It’s a tall order. There will be teething problems – not only with the technology I am sure but also with the novelty of it, especially for younger children.

We are, however, lucky that it has been made possible at all by the rapid advances in technology which now allow such interactive learning to take place.

Many older children around the UK are joining the rest of their class remotely to undertake their normal timetable online, overseen by a teacher, until the Easter holidays begin. Their screen time will be guided by this timetable. Others will be set work to complete which will involve independent research. I am sure all of them will also want to use screens during their downtime, whether they are gaming with friends, emailing, browsing the web or using social media.

At The Mulberry House School, we have provided tailored timetables for our EYFS and prep children and access to lesson information we have prepared and we have also suggested online resources parents can use. We have also combined these with some video messages they can view from me and from their teachers which we hope will help to make them feel in touch and motivated.

As we enter this unprecedented time of mass home learning, it will be more important than ever for parents to help children find a screen time balance which enables them to complete their work in their virtual classrooms, stay in touch with their friends while they cannot see them in person, but also spend time away from the screen. It is vital that all pupils receive the right amount of screen time to enrich their learning and development but not to hinder it further.

Screen time can offer younger children opportunities to learn and develop new skills at a touch of a button, but like anything, too much of it can have a negative effect on their wellbeing.

I strongly advise setting clear boundaries on screen time when children are younger so they are used to their online use being limited and start to understand the message about balancing time online with time spent offline. As children get older and more independent online, finding the right balance for your family can be challenging. Children who are not used to boundaries early on are far less likely to accept them being imposed randomly at a later age.

As a bid to get the best out of screen time, Internet Matters have devised five simple tips to help manage children’s screen time.

I will summarise them and explain how I see it:

Set a good example yourself Younger children particularly will tend to model their behaviour on their role models. If they see them constantly on a device, they will not respond as well to being told to put down their own.

Talk together about the time they spend online Ask them what they are looking at or working on and explain why you think that might be problematic, if you do. Older children may not appear to respond to reason but they do tend to store the information and consider it in their own time however they might initially react!

Set a family agreement on screen time You can draw one up yourself or look at the template and suggestions available here. I think this is a great idea because it can take the heat out of a potentially contentious area by asking everyone in the family to consider their own screen time.

Create screen-free zones at home Agree on areas in the house where screens are now allowed. Personally, I would always advocate a screen-free dining area and screen-free bedrooms overnight. Again, this is so much easier to implement and enforce if you start this when your children are younger.

Use some of the technology and apps available to help cut screen time This might seem counter-intuitive but there are some incredible apps available which really do make children stop and think and pause before picking up the phone and using it again Research and use some of these apps to help children cut down. One of these is ‘Forest’ where you can grow a virtual forest as long as you cut down screen time. Parents can compete with children on this app so it’s an interactive and, hopefully fun way of encouraging them to cut down screen time.

Please also don’t forget that there are many other ways for children to learn and have fun – whether it’s by reading quietly or together, playing good old-fashioned games with you and their siblings or even cooking or gardening. These are all things that would be perfect for the coming weeks when we will all need to practise a little mindfulness and keep our spirits high!

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About Victoria Playford

Victoria Playford is head of The Mulberry House School.