Manage screen time with these quarantine guidelines

Dear parents,

I feel your pain. If you were ambivalent about your child's screen time pre-pandemic, now you might really be feeling that way. Our kids are exclusively learning online and have fewer options for entertaining themselves.

Perhaps you're not only concerned about how much time your child is spending online, but also about the quality of what they're spending it on beyond schoolwork. You might rely on your child being on a screen to get through your work day or avoid conflicts with siblings. Our current situation truly creates a conundrum. Although there is no prescribed amount of screen time while we are quarantined, here are a few guidelines to consider.

• Reframe your beliefs.

I've had to shift my thoughts and feelings about technology for the time being. I used to worry about the real-life experiences my teen son was missing out on when he gamed online with friends. Now, technology allows him to "be" with his friends, which is developmentally significant for him. They cajole one another and laugh while they're gaming. It brightens my day to hear him sound joyful in the midst of the sadness we are experiencing.

Don't obsess over the quality of your child's screen time right now. Their brains won't disintegrate if they watch meaningless YouTube videos in the short term. This is not to be confused with viewing inappropriate content. The rules you had before should remain the same.

Do check in about what purpose screen time serves for your child. Watch for changes in mood related to online time. Are they using it in ways that make them feel better or worse?

• Maintain predictability

In the face of uncertainty, children of all ages benefit from knowing what to expect (though teens would have you believe otherwise). Having consistent routines and expectations helps one feel safe and offers some sense of control when things are fluid and changing. Keep as much of that in place regarding screen time as you can while being realistic about current circumstances. It will also make resuming to previous life easier.

If devices weren't allowed at the dinner table before, they shouldn't be now. Prevent your child from reverting to newborn status where days and nights are mixed up. Keep screens out of the bedroom at night.

• Practice patience

Expect you'll have difficult days, as will your child. When parents feel unsure about how to handle children's behavior that makes them uncomfortable, it's easy to slip into micromanagement or avoidance mode.

Our role as parents shifts throughout our child's developmental stages. When children are young, we are their teacher. It's our job to help them learn about using technology by setting age-appropriate limits and listening to feelings about those limits when they arise.

As children move into adolescent years, we build on the foundation set in childhood and shift to a coaching role. Know your child's strengths and challenges with navigating screen time while providing guidance and support. Explain the expectations you have come from a caring place, and be a good listener.

By the time they reach young adulthood, we serve as consultants. Young adult children may check in with us to get advice or help problem solve around ways technology is impacting them.

While children may temporarily regress somewhat during this unusual time, it's helpful to remember our role.

We've not been through a pandemic before. Be gentle with your parenting self and hang in there!

­- Alisa Messana of Hinsdale is a licensed clinical social worker and a mental health consultant.