Mama, she whispered. Mama, I want to facetime gramma. Mama, can I put your password in?
I was asleep, and my little one nudged the side of my face, asking for my cell phone. I sighed and handed it over, the memory of my children’s screen use getting out of hand earlier this year still fresh in my mind.
You see, screens are different in a pandemic, aren’t they? We were a “moderate” screen use family, and I’m a screen-positive mama- until things went South. It was on the drive home from our annual family Tahoe trip as my three year old screamed “Give! Me! My! Phone!” (it was actually my phone) that I realized I had to make a shift. Two and a half weeks into “No Screen March,” which I was using to reset our families’ screen practices…. COVID-19 hit. I’m proud that we stayed screen-free through March, and that we did indeed, reset.
Our family’s current practice is Friday or Saturday night movie night- and we discuss which movie all week, make special treats, and all watch together. We host a daily zoom, and Facetime with cousins and friends. And we are so gentle with ourselves- last week, I was utterly exhausted. We watched a movie. It is a time to be gentle about screen use- and yet, we rely so heavily right now on screens.
Screens have become the portal through which many of our children learn. Parents are left attempting to manage multiple kids on multiple virtual meetings, scrambling for the correct link and enough screens for multiple children to participate.
For some of our children, especially those who can manage the links and the assignments and the tech troubleshooting- virtual learning is empowering. Through their screen, they enter into a world with friends, bright images, familiar content and teachers who miss them. They are transported from their bedroom or living room into a digital classroom that is vast.
And for others, virtual learning might imply a loss of agency: they may be unable to manage multiple zoom meeting numbers, or they may struggle to connect with teachers and friends without being able to read their body language and affect. Sitting at a screen might just be too much, or their bodies might be sensitive to the blue light or the flat faces on the screen.
For some, a show while mama loads the dishwasher is a good break, for others seeing a beloved relative on a screen but not being able to nestle into their arms is too much. For some, screens are up-regulating. For others, they are down-regulating. All of these ways of being are OK. Our task as parents is to identify how screens are going for each of our children, and to respond accordingly. Join us next week to discuss how to manage screens and how to make sense of your child’s experience.
The most important thing is our children’s social emotional health right now. The relationship you have with your child is what is going to help them move through this time, screens or no screens. So nurture that relationship, and experiment with what works regarding media use. And know that dropping out of virtual academic opportunities is just fine. Delving into digital making with your teen is just fine. Doing what you need to do to nurture your child’s emotional experience of this global event is what is most important right now: academically, your child will catch up. Their heart is the most important thing, and their heart is deeply connected to yours.
Take care of yourselves, dear parents.