The news is in about how kids fared during the height of the pandemic—and it’s not all bad.
Even as the pandemic drags on, parents can capitalize on the good stuff and nudge kids away from the negatives and toward self-confidence and success at school.
The American Academy of Pediatrics surveyed thousands of its members and saw that many families created the feeling of a safe, secure, loving household even as the pandemic was causing loss, confusion, and grief outside the home. Pediatricians call that a “positive childhood experience.”
A PCE is the opposite of an ACE, or an “adverse childhood experience.” While an ACE damages a child’s mental or physical health, a PCE builds kids’ self-esteem and emotional durability.
But even as children were benefiting from emotional support, many slipped into not-so-healthy habits using their phones, tablets, and other digital devices. Technology use caused problems for kids of all ages, including splintered attention spans, diminished social skills, and damaged vision.
Many kids are having trouble focusing on one task after spending so many months alt-tabbing and using multiple devices at once, according to a March 2021 parent survey by the Digital Wellness Lab of Boston Children’s Hospital.
Kids can re-learn to focus on a single task if they read on paper. “Paper stories or books are inherently less distraction-prone and require more sustained focus,” says John Hutton, MD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in a Children and Screens webinar on reading. Just 15 minutes a day reading a paper book or magazine can make a difference. A good story also helps exercise kids’ imaginations.
Kids also got rusty at taking turns, listening, and other skills they’ll need in the classroom, according to an expert panel convened by the research consortium Children and Screens.
Kids can practice their social skills by sitting down with other family members for meals and having a conversation. To allow people to see and hear each other, turn off the TV and place phones, tablets, and other attention-stealing devices out of reach in a basket or other container.
After attending online school, many kids complained daily of eye pain and headaches, according to eyecare professionals convened at an emergency summit of the American Optometric Association.
Screen use will no doubt continue, but kids can be taught to avoid digital eyestrain. The AOA recommends teaching them the 20-20-20 rule: that is, to look away from the screen every 20 minutes at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. Younger kids should also take multiple 20-minute outdoor breaks for even better eye health and as a hedge against needing glasses.
During the pandemic months, kids got used to always having a phone in hand, the DWL survey shows. That may not be possible—or advised—when kids are back in the classroom.
To get comfortable being apart from their devices, kids can charge them outside the bedroom at night. An alarm clock can wake up in the morning. Doing this not only allow for better sleep, but also time for bedtime chats where parents can help them talk through school-related worries.
Families can choose from 9 nudges to address their particular needs in the free, downloadable Durable Family Pledge.
Learn more about how kids can achieve better digital wellness in and out of school in the webinar, Improve Your Family’s Well-being Post-Pandemic, One Simple Habit at a Time – YouTube and reading the post, Wellness Habits Help Families Adjust Post Pandemic | The Durable Human
By Jenifer Joy Madden
About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a former Action News 24 reporter and founder of DurableHuman.com. She is also a Syracuse University adjunct professor of broadcast and digital journalism, a certified digital wellness coach, and the parent of three grownup practicing durable humans.