The past year has been unprecedented (I know, I know…that word!), as has our teens’ screen time. For interest’s sake, I just pulled up my calendar from this week, 2020. There is barely an empty hour between competition jazz band commitments, religious school, music and sports lessons, high school extra-curriculars, and get-togethers with friends. I see virtually no blank space on our family calendar – and my kids have never been as “programmed” as their peers! With so little free time (once you add in schoolwork, which both my kids take seriously), screen time was not a huge issue in our house. The kids texted with friends, followed some Instagram accounts, and my son played an hour of video games per day on weekends only.
Fast forward to COVID times. How many times have YOU said to your kids – “Get off your screens” or “Can’t you find anything else to do that does not involve in a screen?” It sure feels like a problem – so I turned to my screens and asked fellow parents of teens whether they are struggling with screens in their homes too. I also asked what their teens are keeping busy with that does not involve an electronic device. Here are some take-aways:
-We are all in this together – “All screens. All the time,” “Screens, all the time,” “Definitely a lot of screen time.” Basically, every parent who I heard from admitted to way too much screen time in their homes.
-Sports have been helpful – in some areas, organized sports have continued throughout COVID. Parents remarked that team sports and individual lessons in sports like tennis have been a godsend for their kids. Although we have been extremely cautious throughout the pandemic, we did allow our son to play Little League baseball this summer and it truly was a blessing. He got to be with other boys, got a lot of fresh air and exercise, and felt some of the team spirit he usually experiences at his beloved overnight camp. Parents also wrote about how their kids have embraced the family exercise equipment. My daughter has been joining me for Peloton yoga classes and we are loving the together time and the laughs when we can’t quite master the poses!
-Weather is a factor – Parents remarked that their kids were much better at getting outside for exercise and socially distant visits with friends when the weather was warmer and there was no snow or ice on the ground. So many friends invested in firepits and heaters before the winter – but when it is 10 degrees outside, no teenager is going to sit in the backyard! Bad weather = more screen time. For all of us.
-Kids have adjusted to doing all sorts of things online – in my house, we do online trumpet lessons, clarinet lessons, and piano lessons. I have learned to knit online with my best friend in Canada. Of course, many, many kids are doing therapy online (I’ve never been busier). Things that seemed impossible before COVID seem pretty normal now. Yes, I recognize that these online activities technically involve a screen, but if it means kids are learning and growing, we will have to accept it for now.
-Crafts can be cool – one mom wrote that she is taking 2-3 trips to craft stores per month. Many parents wrote about their kids drawing, painting, knitting, crocheting, baking and cooking. I do have to say these interests seemed to trend slightly to the tween/early teen age group as opposed to high school kids. One of my college age students knits and crochets the COOLEST clothes and bags – I feel like if my daughter and her friends could see her stuff, they would all want to pick up knitting. But if I suggest it – no way.
-Pets – many people have acquired pandemic puppies and these too have been very helpful for kids. They get kids outside and exercising and are of course good for mental health and for learning responsibility. Don’t have your own pet? Maybe your child can help out walking a neighbor’s dog!
-Reading – some parents wrote that they have kids who are naturally avid readers and these kids have loved the gift of reading time that COVID has afforded.
To summarize – the good news is that our kids have kept up with old hobbies and interests and have developed some new ones despite COVID. The bad news – there is an awful lot of aimless screen time, and a lot of the activities described above actually still involve screens.
SO, SHOULD WE BE WORRIED?
As a psychologist, I encourage you to ask yourselves this –
What is the function of the screen time?
Some positive functions –
-Social time – if your kid is on Facetime with friends, playing video games with other kids, or watching silly videos with a friend, remind yourself – this is all they’ve got right now. Particularly in the winter, it is really hard to get together in any meaningful way. For kids who are in school, social time is very limited. Generally, kids cannot choose who to eat lunch with and during lunch cannot even face a peer and talk while they eat. Kids are telling me that school leaves them feeling really empty. They need to fill their tank somehow.
-Learning – Obviously, our kids are going to be on screens for school and for completing schoolwork. During these odd times, we also have to accept that they will be on screens to take their music and dance lessons, do some of their sports coaching, watch videos about crafts and baking, and so on. At these times where kids are having so few shared experiences, it is also important for kids to have things to connect about – and this might be the latest sports scores or the newest Netflix series. For kids who are watching a lot of sports or shows/movies, suggest they get on Facetime and watch with a friend or watch a really interesting series and virtually meet to discuss each episode with friends (like a book club – but for TV!)
-A healthy escape – This year has been a nightmare between COVID, political and social unrest, and for many kids, losing loved ones, economic security, etc. Think about what YOU do at the end of a hard day. Most people turn on the TV and zone out. Let your kids do that too. Not for hours, but do remember that they need a brain break too.
And the not so positive –
-Escape from aversive feelings – If your child is spending hours on screens, to the exclusion of COVID-safe social time, other hobbies, spending time with family, etc., it is worth asking if they are using screens to escape from aversive feelings of anxiety and sadness. Screen time would likely not be the only sign of a problem. Has your child’s eating or sleep habits changed? Do they seem particularly critical of themselves or more worried than usual? Have they lost interest in things they used to like and that they still could do during COVID? If you are seeing some of these changes with increased screen time, check in with your child. If you are concerned about their mental health, speak to your pediatrician or school counselor.
Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2021 brings many positive changes to our world after an incredibly difficult 2020. With New Year’s here, many people will be tempted to get “out with the old” and establish new, healthier habits.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR CREATING AND STICKING TO YOUR RESOLUTIONS THIS YEAR:
Originally published on https://lifespeak.com/blog/
Back in March, when we came home from school and work for two weeks, who could have imagined that we would now be into our seventh month of living our lives on screens?? As we gear up for a Fall of telehealth sessions, I would like to share some tips to make our sessions run as smoothly as possible!
Do a Good Deed
Reading and Writing
Lunch and Learn!
In the evenings…
Online Camps and Classes
I would love to hear about what you are doing to keep busy this summer. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas and I will update this list!
I am a silver lining sort of person. There is no doubt that a global pandemic is really, really awful. We have now been home for ten weeks. We have missed celebrating meaningful events and holidays with family and friends; we've worried about our front-line workers and elderly relatives; we've mourned the loss of teams and music groups and volunteer groups; and of course, we've endured the challenges of working and learning from home.
But, what about all that kids are learning during this time? Without the sun-up to sun-down rushing that typically guides our lives, how have our kids filled this time? To me, the silver lining is that many kids are filling their time with acquiring and building life skills! This is so great!
-A few of my patients have learned to ride two-wheelers, probably a few years after they should have! And, older patients who had felt very anxious about learning to drive have embraced this life skill on our quieter streets.
-So many kids are cooking, baking, and gardening. These are skills they will use forever.
-One friend posted on Facebook that her kids built a bike course, a tree swing, and the frame to a car (like one you can drive!). How cool is that?
-There is no doubt that the current generation of parents is more overprotective than our parents were of us (check out http://www.freerangekids.com). This unique time is allowing kids to set off on their own for adventures in their neighborhoods. Yesterday, my kids biked into our little town on their own and navigated buying an ice cream while following all the new COVID rules to keep them and people around them safe. They were so proud of themselves when they got home!
-How about CLEANING? Without a regular cleaning person, many families are scrubbing toilets and changing beds and doing lots of laundry and dishes! Okay, full disclosure - getting the kids involved in this one hasn't been easy in my house (the groaning tends to take longer than the doing). However, the pay-off is huge. Between ages 17 and 30, I did all of my own cleaning. How great that our kids are building the confidence now so that when they head out into the world, they will know how to keep their environments clean and pleasant.
-A major life skill is learning how to BE comfortable with oneself. It is so important to discover how to structure an empty day so that at the end of it, you feel like it was a day worth living. Without their over-structured days, kids are really having the opportunity to learn this skill. Kids are waking up each morning and depending on their age, they need to set their schedule for the day. By this point in quarantine, many kids have realized that endless video games does not feel good at the end of the day. So what does? Kids are learning what gives them a sense of accomplishment, what makes them feel happy, what makes them feel calm and relaxed. To me, this might be the most important life skill of all.
What life skills have your kids learned during quarantine? I'd love to hear!
Have you been battling getting your kids (or yourself?!) off screens since the COVID quarantine began? Take a look at these 25 Things to Do When You Are Bored (without a screen). Thanks so much to my amazing 14-year old daughter for her charming illustrations :) Do you have ideas for 25 MORE Things To Do When You Are Bored? Let us know!
1. Maintain regular sleeping and eating routines.
-even though baking is a fun quarantine activity, overeating will lead you to feel sluggish and unhappy. All food is good food – but everything in moderation!
2. Keep up social connections.
-schedule some Zoom or Facetime chats with friends each week. If you find it difficult to make casual conversation, plan to play a game or discuss a book or movie with your friend(s).
-take advantage of “social events” offered by groups you feel connected to – like your church/synagogue, volunteer organizations, schools, etc.
-Have the patience to help older relatives and friends get up to speed with new technologies so that they can feel connected too.
3. Get exercise every day, preferably outdoors.
-Be mindful of keeping a safe distance.
-Be creative – find a wall on which to play solo tennis, make a hopscotch course on the driveway, do yoga on your porch, explore new streets in your neighborhood.
4. Make sure that each day includes activities that give you a sense of MASTERY.
-mastery activities are those that give you a sense of accomplishment. These are the activities that might not necessarily be fun, but feel good to check off the “to do” list.
-make sure you set reasonable goals each day for mastery activities. Rather than setting the goal of cleaning your whole house for example, plan to clean the bathrooms one day and vacuum another day.
-examples of mastery activities are school work, work, household chores, etc.
5. Make sure that each day includes activities that give you a sense of PLEASURE/FUN.
-pleasure activities are activities that give you little lift because they are fun!
-make sure that screen time is not your only source of fun. While some time on Netflix is indeed fun, sitting for hours watching TV tends to not be good for our moods.
-examples of fun activities include listening to or playing music, doing a craft, doing something physical or athletic, playing with a pet, gardening, reading, etc.
If you are finding the days under quarantine very aimless, try making yourself a daily hour-by-hour schedule. Make sure that you include all of these items in your daily schedule – healthy meals, a good night’s sleep, exercise, social time, mastery activities and pleasure activities.
I've created a new In the News page for articles about COVID-19 . My goal is to keep adding to my blog with helpful resources by colleagues and friends - there is an overwhelming amount of good information out there for kids and families. I'm trying to get this done between online therapy sessions; helping with homeschool; getting some exercise each day; doing endless cooking, cleaning, and laundry; and (ironically) reviewing an upcoming book about repetitive negative thoughts. More to come....I promise!
On April 9, 2020, Governor Wolf announced that PA schools will not re-open until the Fall. With this in mind, I will continue sessions by tele-therapy until further notice. I have adjusted my schedule to accommodate the competing demands of my practice and my family. You may receive an email with a rescheduled appointment time in the next few weeks. I am trying to spread appointments evenly throughout the week. If you receive a new time that does not work for you, please write me back and we will work it out!
When we first began to shelter at home, I was not taking new patients, thinking that I would rather meet new families in person. Seeing that this might be quite a while off, I will be taking a limited number of new patients "remotely." Please fill in the new patient information form and we can discuss further whether tele-therapy is appropriate for your family.
Please let me know if there is any desire for some zoom therapy groups. I was thinking about parent support groups; groups for kids whose parents work in the healthcare field; and groups for kids whose senior year of high school or college has abruptly ended. Sharing these experiences with others in the same boat can be very comforting. Drop me a note to let me know if these groups interest you: email@example.com.
Please stay well, and let me know how I can best support you!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.