Families have stayed home for more than a month, and the rules around device use have gone out the window.
Growing up, there were four rules at my house: You do not miss church on Sunday, you never ride in the back of an uncovered pick-up truck, you join the family at the dinner table, and you come home for curfew.
Besides these musts, it wasn’t a particularly strict up-bringing. Many of my friends had early bedtimes and routines and limits to television time. But not us. As long as I was getting my homework done and my parents knew where I was, I was allowed a lot of leeway on how I spent my free time. Like many kids in the 80’s, I played outside with friends, I read books, and I did a lot of late-night TV watching and Atari playing, too.
As a parent, I have a pretty similar approach. When my children were young, of course, there was a lot more structure when it came to bedtime, nutrition and entertainment. But now that they are teens and tweens, the main tenets here are be kind, be honest, wear a helmet, and do your best at school. There is some guidance thrown in on fruits and vegetables, but my allowance when it comes to devices is pretty lenient. As you know from reading this column, my approach is educate, and then allow kids to manage their own time with technology.
But I know from conversations with friends that my way is not the choice for every family. Strict limits on screen time and early bedtimes still rule in many homes. Which is why it got me thinking about how the state-wide stay-at-home order that began in March would impact habits when it comes to technology in our lives. As the weeks in quarantine wore on, would those who allow unfettered access to devices come to regret it? Would those with stringent routines around screen time be forced to ease up?
Turns out it is all of the above.
Depending on your family’s view on device use, the quarantine has, in many households, made bad habits worse, and good habits bad. On the other hand, technology has also been a godsend for many when it comes to learning and connections.
I’ve been researching and talking to friends about the lessons this unusual time in history has taught us about technology and family. Here are some of the main take-aways about tech and our time in isolation.
In the struggle between low-tech time and screen-time, screens win….
For some families, the desire to limit screen time is ongoing. Kids love them, but parents desperately want their little ones to continue to spend most of their free time engaged in physical activity, reading, and in-person with friends and loved ones. Some are more successful than others in setting limits. But the stay-at-home order turned a lot of that resolve to dust.
“We've always limited gaming and screen time to the weekends, with even stricter limits during the school week. Now that their iPad use has dramatically increased for at-home schooling it feels more important than ever to enforce those limits, but it's very difficult,” said my friend, Kelly Molter, a Shrewsbury mom of two kids. “With two parents trying to work from home we find ourselves giving in during the day just so we can take a conference call and get things done.”
….but we still feel guilty about technology
“I never wanted to be a parent that allowed their kid to use screen time in excessive amounts,” said Jen Faro, a North Andover mom of a toddler, Gabi. “Until this point, I feel that my husband and I have done a fair job with limiting it. Since quarantine life has started, I definitely let Gabs have way more screen time and just purchased a kid’s Kindle Fire. I’m torn between feeling guilty and relieved that it gives me a break, especially when I have to work from home.”
Tech’s benefit for learning is indisputable
One common theme I heard when talking about technology with parent friends is that we are very lucky to be going through this pandemic in a time when technology enables our kids some form of distance learning.
“It has helped with my kids’ assignments and staying connected to their teachers and peers,” said Jenn Luke, a Shrewsbury mom of two.
“It’s wonderful to know the teachers can see the progress my kids have with schoolwork and most submissions have been easy,” added Lisa Vuona, also a Shrewsbury mom of two kids.
In some cases, it is better than nothing
My neighbor recently became a grandmother for the second time. But because of the pandemic, she has been unable to visit her new granddaughter. She happily Facetimed with her daughter and new granddaughter the other day, noting at least devices give her some outlet to watch her grow in these first few weeks of life.
“I can’t wait to be able to cuddle her,” she said as she watched her on the screen. For many, like my neighbor, screens have had to suffice and be the next-best thing to reality in these last few weeks.
“As a single parent that is considered an essential worker, my child has to stay home, day after day, alone. I can’t send her anywhere or get a sitter to keep her company as I need us to isolate. Technology allows her to connect with friends, family, do schoolwork and play games,” said Kelly Landini, of Shrewsbury, who has one daughter who is 12.
Even kids have their limits
As much as being at home has forced parents to lengthen the screen-time leash, many noted that even kids can only stand so much time in front of a device and have expressed that they crave low-tech time together.
“When I am home and spending time with my daughter, she tells me ‘no electronics,’” added Landini. “Breaks my heart because she has been such a trooper about being home alone, but so very telling how much she needs to be connected with me when I’m home. We play games with no phones or TV.”
For better and for worse, tech helps us stay connected
Although technology often gets a bad rap as a reason why people are not as connected anymore, many parent friends I spoke with noted it was critical in helping them feel less isolated during this time. Even more noted they have turned to using Facebook and other social media networks to keep in touch with friends. Others expressed their gratitude for the “Zoom cocktail hour” trend that has become a popular way for friends to socialize at the end of long days in quarantine.
“I can see and talk to my friends and family, which has stopped me from feeling so isolated. That being said, I can’t wait to see you all in person,” said Jennifer Kuhnel, a mom of two in Shrewsbury.
Going back will be difficult
While allowing more device time has been necessary for families trying to juggle school work, parenting duties and working from home, several noted that like all shortcuts, going back to doing things “the old way” may be challenging once the pandemic ceases. Kids who expect hours of device time may be a bit shocked when that allowance is pulled away.
“Right now, we are pretty lenient with the Xbox time, knowing they are interacting with all their friends that way. So, we are thankful they do have a way to keep in touch,” said my friend Anne Gray, a mom of two boys in Shrewsbury. “What I am not looking forward to is cutting back on the technology once we are not home 24-7 and can return to a somewhat normal life.”
Love it or leave it? Most of us love it
While sentiments vary on technology, overwhelmingly, parents voice that they are grateful we have had access to it in order to fill long days, keep some form of learning going, and help stay connected while in isolation. But once our time in quarantine has ended, and we are allowed to resume our lives again, what will be “normal” when it comes to technology habits? My personal observation is there will be some habits established and lessons learned that will go forward with us after this time. Perhaps more working from home as so many have shifted to remote work to keep business running? Or more distance learning initiatives as we see how school assignments done from home works out for students?
What lessons have you learned about technology during the stay-at-home order that will stay with you after this time is over? What parts are you looking forward to ditching in place of normalcy again? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your thoughts.