For many years, parents have been warned about the dangers of screen time and social media and the importance of setting limits for their child’s use of digital devices. Then, the pandemic hit and much of that guidance became both impractical and irrelevant.

Even now, as we ease into life in-person, a digital detox may not be right for your family—that’s ok! Rather than worrying about what your child is doing on their computer or tablet, use screen time to connect with your child, learn about their interests, and get to know their world.

Not all screen time is created equal

In the past, the tendency has been to consider any time a child spends with a digital device as passive screen time that needs to be limited, but the reality is much more nuanced. Age-appropriate, interactive screen time—such as building a world in a game like Minecraft or completing an educational puzzle—can encourage creative thinking, socialization, and independent decision-making.

Plus, as a parent, you get the opportunity to connect with your child by joining them where they are. Spend some time sitting next to them as they play a digital game—you’ll not only be able to assess if what they’re doing is age-appropriate, but you can also ask engaging questions that encourage them to think more critically about what they’re doing.

Since there will inevitably be times when you can’t monitor their every online move, building a basic understanding of their online interests will allow you to spot any red flags as their screen use progresses.

The benefits extend beyond the home

Just as you can take interest in your child’s screen time as a way to connect with them, so too can they use screens as a way to connect with the larger world. At this stage of the pandemic, we’re all likely familiar with how screens can be used to socialize with long-distance family and friends, but new trends in teletherapy are increasingly focused on how to provide children the care they need via the screens they are already so comfortable using.

For example, Dr. Jessica Stone, a psychologist with a particular interest in therapeutic digital tools, has co-created a digital sandtray that can be used for digital play therapy during virtual sessions with children. In January, Dr. Stone will lead a training for clinicians at our Child Training Institute on how to appropriately integrate digital tools into play therapy and incorporate clients’ online and offline interests into their treatment.

Therapy in a virtual format may feel less intimidating for children overall. Rather than having to go to a new building or meet someone in person, children simply logon to the device that they already feel comfortable using. Therapists benefit too, in that virtual sessions allow them to see the child in their own environment and get to know the family and the child’s world at home.

You can still set limits

When it’s active, engaging, and productive for children, screen time can be part of a balanced lifestyle with other activities such as playing outside, offline reading or schoolwork, and helping around the house. You can still set guidelines and boundaries for how your child uses devices, without perpetuating the idea that time spent on screens is negative.

Remember, not all screen time is created equally. An hour that your child spends chatting with their grandparent online while you get dinner ready or catch up on the book you’re reading is far more beneficial than them spending 15 minutes passively watching an online video.

As online services—from therapy to educational offerings—improve and evolve in response to the pandemic, it’s important to focus on the quality of your child’s digital experiences, and not the exact amount of time they spend with a screen.

To learn more about Dr. Jessica Stone’s upcoming Child Training Institute session for mental health professional, The Power of Digital Play Therapy, please click here.

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