Here is my commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on June 3, 2020, Save Your Kids from Covid’s Digital Deluge. I know some of you don’t subscribe to WSJ and weren’t able to read the commentary, so here it is:
Parents used to feel guilty when our children overused phones and tablets. But during Covid-19, experts gave us a pass. We’ve been told that in extraordinary times, it’s OK to be more lenient. Social media may be just the thing to connect your teen to her friends.
These words of reassurance eased our consciences and helped us make sense of the new world of working from home, distance learning and being cooped up. Going online for absurd lengths of time was a stopgap measure to keep us sane. Teens have been surfing the night shift, sleeping away the day. Younger kids are glued to YouTube, and tweens are getting social media accounts and watching crazy amounts of TikTok.
Children were already obsessed with screen time before the pandemic. I fear what they’ll be like after. As summer begins, we can anticipate sliding deeper into the digital abyss. With many camps and vacations canceled, what else will kids do to pass the time? If they continue their full-time job of watching videos, they won’t be ready when school starts again. Habits are being ingrained.
Now is the time to break the trance of digital distraction. Children need downtime to process their thoughts and emotions. They need screen-free play to flourish and be healthy. They also need physical exercise—60 minutes or more of moderate vigorous physical activity a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We want our children to feel good, and that’s why we often go easy on them. But maybe they’ll feel better if we require them to do good—help cook dinner, sweep the kitchen floor, read books, run outside, write a letter to grandma. When children take responsibility, their self-esteem improves. The lockdown provides a rare opportunity to teach kids practical skills like cooking, driving, managing money and showing common courtesy.
The weeks ahead are uncertain, but that’s no reason to keep kids hooked up to entertainment like an intravenous drip. It takes courage for a parent to pull the plug on nonstop entertainment. Don’t expect to win any popularity points. But remember a great coach does what the team needs, not what it wants.
Your kids need you to step in and stop the digital deluge. They need you to break the trance so they can win in life.
Ms. Pellicane is host of “The Happy Home Podcast.”