Guest Author Feature: Kelly Gray
Enough about the dangers of too much screen time. We have bigger problems to solve right now. Like how are parents going to keep holding everything together?
While they’re not a cure-all or the equivalent of a full-time, live-in nanny, I have some ideas, and the only thing you really have to worry about is whether or not the batteries are fully charged.
I’ll admit it: I was a firm no screen time parent pre-COVID. Now, screens are something my family can’t manage work and life demands without (and we’re never going back).
A recent Ipsos Mori survey shows that shared screen time is up 37% year-over-year, though my personal experience would put that number far higher. Needing to find a way to work and parent from home full time has turned this into a necessary tool in my arsenal. Even the woman who wrote the book on screen time is changing her tune.
We all have different challenges right now. But the one thing we all face is a lack of options. So many of the parents I’ve spoken to are running out of ideas after five months of being at home. That’s forcing us to bond, share ideas, and get creative to keep our kids active, engaged, and happy.
Screens have become our magic hat of resources. They’re creating virtual experiences that solve the need for multidimensional play and connection. They’re making it possible to balance the needs of my daughter and my needs as a working parent from home. In short, they’re helping me build a toolkit equipped for any situation.
So to help those parents struggling to come up with ideas, here are some of the ways screens have made my job easier:
Dial into your community:
For both my daughter and me, screens have helped us grow our community and foster new connections in ways I couldn’t even imagine pre-COVID.
One example is that we’ve been making small videos to send back and forth (as attention spans “live” can be challenging), allowing our children to “facetime” whenever they ask for a friend.
For parent-to-parent support, we have text groups where we’re sharing ideas, safe places to go with your kiddos to let them play, supporting each other through emotionally challenging moments or weeks, and just adding a little bit of adult humor to a day that feels never-ending.
Of course, there are also online communities you can tap into for help. Whether you’re using forums, social media, or platforms like Kunik, the use of communities like these can provide so much support and guidance.
Parents are all universally connected right now; we just need to find each other and support each other. Screens make it easier to do just that. And we should stop judging one another for screen time or any other solutions. The truth is, you should do what works best for you and your family.
Tap out to victory:
Screens have also made it possible to adapt to our kids’ ever-changing needs on the fly, and it’s important to recognize when to use this. Over the summer, I’ve encountered so many parents preparing their kid’s schedule for the week, setting up Zoom with my daughter, beginning reading time, and…their kids aren’t into it.
That’s totally fine. Tap out. Do something else. Knowing when to call it and move on is so valuable since forced activities don’t go well with kids of any age. And you don’t even need to explain to the person on the other side when you need to abruptly end a call or activity. We get it.
I use my daughter’s tablet to create a curated list so that I can replace an activity that isn’t holding my daughter’s attention with something that might. So long as the new activity achieves the original objective of that time in her schedule, it’s still a win.
And I’ve been surprised to see what happens when I give my daughter the reins. She wants to explore new things; with multiple options to choose from in our toolkit, she has that ability. I’m always a little surprised by what she can intuitively do without any direction when it comes to navigating apps and educational resources.
The importance of building a toolkit:
Using technology has helped me build a toolkit of activities and games for my daughter to use. With it, we can solve many problems that may arise throughout the day. There’s always something to do, and we balance guided and unguided play by giving her the freedom to choose.
One hour it might be the potato masher and Play-Doh, the next hour it might be new content with dance moves she can mimic on her device.
What has kept things interesting for my daughter is doubling down on multi-dimensional play options. For me, I’ve turned to my company Sphero and their educational tools.
When it’s raining outside and we need physical activity, I’ll program my Sphero BOLT to roll around the room and let her chase it — it’s a good exercise and she’s squealing with joy! When we need to swap modes from physical play to mental stimulation, we can use the tool to teach her about coding with the app.
Tools like these help me turn one thing into many. Packing a whole bunch of these into a physical and virtual toolkit means we’re rarely short on activities. Of course, for those times when we are out of ideas, we know there’s a whole community that can help.
The more that parents promote the ways they’re keeping their kids engaged during the pandemic, the easier it will be for parents to find solutions. And that’s all parents need right now.
So, use these tips to use screens and build your own toolkit. Tell others what’s working and what isn’t. In person, over screens, it doesn’t matter. Just keep connecting with others.
If you’re interested in hearing more ideas, my team at Sphero put together an awesome list of ways parents in our community are helping their kids stay engaged during the pandemic. You can read more here.
Kelly Gray is the vice president of global sales and marketing at Sphero, an ed-tech company that makes undeniably-cool, programmable robots and STEAM-based educational tools that are transforming the way kids learn, create, and invent.