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Screen time in COVID-19 crisis: ‘It is about the content and context’

What to do about screen time during the COVID-19 crisis
WATCH ABOVE: In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are grappling with the notion of screen time limits considering for children, screens have become a portal and connection to the outside world. Laurel Gregory went to the "Mediatrician" for advice.

Ashley Tichkowsky’s sons are getting a double dose of screen time during this period of school closures, and she doesn’t feel a single pang of guilt or worry.

“It’s a really weird time. It’s one of those times where everyone has to find something that gives them something to look forward to and enjoy,” Tichkowsky said. “If them enjoying their TV allows me to enjoy my things, then there’s absolutely no reason to feel guilty about it.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Calgary mother in isolation gives tips on handling children in quarantine

The mother of two has scheduled in a 1.5 hour TV break for three-year-old Olli and six-year-old Marcus in the morning and afternoon in order to give herself uninterrupted time to exercise, bang off household chores and accomplish her work as a realtor.

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“In the grand scheme of things, more TV isn’t going to kill them and it saves my sanity so we just plunk it in there.”

Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health, doesn’t subscribe to screen time limits because he says recommendations were established prior to the emergence of various screen time options.

“It is not about screen time. It is about the content and the context of use,” he said.

“In other words, what are they using the screen time for? And if they are using it for homework or a Zoom lecture for school or some kind of get together for school, this is good.”

Rather than fixating on a specific quantity of time for screens, Rich advises parents to consider what their child’s screen time is displacing.

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For example, optimally, a child’s day includes adequate sleep, a sit-down meal with family, physical activity, fresh air and even a dose of boredom, which Rich says feeds creativity and imagination.

“Ultimately the choice here is around, what are they not doing because they are online?”

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: There are ways to keep your kids active during the coronavirus lockdown

Even though they’re getting more screen time, Tichkowsky is confident when schools reopen and activities resume, her boys will fall back into a more limited screen routine with ease. In the meantime, she isn’t giving their new normal a second thought.

“Screen time in general seems to be a delicate topic in the parenting world and it’s just so subjective to the individual family needs and the kids for that matter and how they react to screen time.”

More Resources:

Center of Media and Child Health

Canadian Paediatric Society: Signs screen use is becoming a problem