How to limit kids' screen time during lockdown, according to digital guru

09 April 2020 - 06:30 By Claire Keeton
Screen use has jumped up during lockdown, but what's too much?
Screen use has jumped up during lockdown, but what's too much?
Image: 123RF/jemastock

Digital life skills expert and parent Dean McCoubrey runs school programmes on social media. The founder of MySociaLife talks about screen guidelines during lockdown.

What are fair screen limits during lockdown when children must learn and socialise online?

Screen time limits depend on many factors:

  • What type of family are you (conservative or liberal)?
  • What type of child do you have (obsessive user or more self-regulated)?
  • What type of screen time are we talking about: for example, educational (like wildlife TV shows), sport (YouTube), social (Instagram) or gaming (Fortnite)?

For preteens on social media and games, it should be one to two hours a day. But ideally social media shouldn’t even feature for children under 12. There is too much unwanted contact and content for their age.

For teens it can be higher — three hours plus. But every child and family are different.
If the child is using it for online learning or coding, this is much the same as the “positive TV” you would allow.

Mindless social media does require a limit because it eats time away from physical connection, conversation and support. Balance is key — and social media is not designed for balance — so parents need to watch this. Some kids need firm boundaries.

How can parents enforce screen limits without creating ongoing conflict?

Sit down together and ask your child how long they should have on their devices or social/gaming platforms.

Ask them why they feel that time is appropriate? Then negotiate an agreement. Barter chores, creativity or schoolwork in exchange for time online.

Most things in life have to be earned through effort or respect. The best way in is to talk and take an interest in what they see online (without judging openly) and share what you see online

Ask lots of questions — they open the door of communication and in turn may widen the door of trust about your child’s online life.

How can screens encourage our children to be active in a confined space?

Look at Joe Wicks on YouTube to see what is available to get active during lockdown. This is the same for creative time together, hobbies or chores.

Bring a bit of the technology in (even better if it’s trending) to get them to start moving to do something offline.

What apps are children socialising on and what are the risks?

Children are using WhatsApp, TikTok, Instagram, House Party, YouTube, Netflix Party — these have boomed during lockdown.

But each has its risks (bullying, trolling, flaming, exposure to unwanted images, sexting, and approaches from strangers), so set up the privacy settings carefully.

Parents can use an app like ScreenTime for this.

How do parents make sure their children are safe online during lockdown?

A routine of connecting through the day, having meals together and asking them what they are seeing and doing is a good foundation.

Take an interest in the apps they use (do you know which these are?) and Google them.

Create clear boundaries of how public or private they are (how much they share and with whom) — and what you expect of them to earn the device/Wi-Fi/data.

Make accounts private, not public. Simple as that.

Ideally no phones in the bedroom until after 16 years old — and not late at night.

Look out for a change in behaviour in case bullying, sexting or privacy violations have happened online. They may withdraw out of fear or anxiety.

The more you talk, the more you can see any changes in behaviour — and the more you can share your views and values.