In the Back-to-School issue of Local Living, we sought out experts for advice on different ways to prepare for the school year. For the full list of stories, go to washingtonpost.com/parenting.
There’s a common theme that runs through summer: All rules are softened. Including, for many of us, limits on screen time.
Now that school is starting, it may be time to taper off the screens, says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides ratings of media for families and promotes safe technology use.
You can say something like “I know we relaxed a little bit. How much screen time do you think is appropriate to have during the week?” she suggests. Allow the kids to have some input, knowing that homework and chores and extracurricular activities need to come first.
Keep in mind, though, that while we are directing children to taper their screen time, they may be asked to add more, either during the school day or for homework.
“It’ll be hard to differentiate between schoolwork and play,” Knorr says. Children may be asked to look at YouTube for a report, but then they see the nearby links and click there, and get distracted, just as we do. Parents, therefore, need to keep an eye on what kids, particularly younger ones, are doing, Knorr says.
Remove distractions, including their phones, when they are doing homework, she suggests.
“A lot of kids do their homework with the phone right next to them, and they’re getting text messages or Snapchats,” she says. She suggests offering incentives, such as an additional 10 minutes of fun screen time after staying on task for 30 minutes.
For younger children, parents probably need to stay with them while they’re using the computer. Even filters and controls are not infallible, she points out.
And as for those pesky requests for cellphones? A lot of parents want to know what is the right age to get one, she says.
“Every family is different,” Knorr says. Cellphones can give kids a lot of independence and can give parents some peace of mind because the child can let the parent know where she is after school, for instance.
“But make sure they know how to use it as a tool,” Knorr warns. “It should be something that’s not their entertainment device. It’s a tool for them to communicate with Mom and Dad.”
More back-to-school coverage: