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Can parents safely relax screen time rules during the pandemic?

BOSTON – The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in with screen time guidelines. They were designed to help families ensure young kids were getting enough time for healthy pursuits like physical activity and sleep, but with families at home during the pandemic, should parents relax those screen time guidelines?

Seven-year-old Nico loves to build models like a mini version of the White House. Before COVID-19, mom, Maria Ramos-Olazagasti, set screen time limits: just two hours per week. Weekends only.

“We only spend a couple of hours a day with him during the week and we wanted that time as a family,” Ramos-Olazagasti said.

Now, like many students, Nico is online for classes. It adds up to six or seven hours a day.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I was really worried about it,” explained Ramos-Olazagasti.

Jenny Radesky, MD, wrote the American Academy of Pediatric’s 2016 digital media guidelines. Among the recommendations, limit unsupervised screen time to just one hour per day for young children. But now most kids are at home and those guidelines have been updated.

Radesky explained, “I don’t want families to feel guilty that they’re not meeting some perfect plan of how to use media. It’s very much how your family is.”

Radesky said instead of stressing about time limits, think of ways that your family can use screen time for good. Prior research has found that parent engaged screen time like family video chatting with grandma is beneficial for children.

Radesky said, “don’t consider that screen time. That’s learning time. It’s social connection time. It’s using media as a tool to do what your family and your child need right now.”

When selecting media to keep kids entertained, that’s when Radesky says moms should be choosy about content. Common Sense Media and PBS KIDS offer show suggestions and great tips for creating balance online and off.

“We wanted to recognize that parents are going to feel scattered and exhausted during this time, so you don’t have to be perfect. If you binge one day and it’s just what you needed, you can peel back, the next,” Radesky explained.