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Regulating screen time as kids go "back" to school

Over the past few months, there's a good chance your kids have spent a lot of time in front of a screen, but how much is too much?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Over the past few months, there's a good chance your kids have spent a lot of time in front of a screen.

The American Academy of Pediatrics set guidelines for parents when it comes to screen time -- how much is too much -- but during the pandemic, those recommendations have kind of gone out the window. 10TV's Pete Scalia spoke with a local pediatric psychologist to get some tips for parents to manage screen time as many kids head back to school online.

"There's no blueprint for how to handle screen time during a global pandemic," says Dr. Michael Flores, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. While the American Academy of Pediatrics set guidelines for parents when it comes to regulating screen time, Dr. Flores says with kids spending even more time at home, it's ok to spend more time in front of a screen. "I think the main recommendation for families is to give yourself a little it of leeway here," he says.

"I think that the reins have been loosened up a little bit, to allow some flexibility," he adds because who knows what parents are dealing with or kids are dealing with on a daily basis. With people going back to work, some kids back in school, some kids not going back to school, or doing distance learning, there are so many variables in place here, I think that to have such focused, stringent guidelines is not really beneficial to many people, so to broaden that up a bit is really the way to go."

When it comes to regulating screen time, Dr. Flores says it's important to develop some sort of routine, so kids know screen time is okay, and when it's not okay. "In the traditional school setting, you have recess, you have lunch, you have these built-in times," says Dr. Flores. "If we schedule an activity break during the school day, screen time is not an option at that point. You have to choose some other option, whether that's an indoor craft or whether it's an outdoor activity, where you can run around." To that point, Dr. Flores has another bit of advice: "Kids still need about 60 minutes of activity per day, and so if that's built into the system, then kids can still get that."

Dr. Flores says right now, it's more important to focus on the quality of what your child is doing or watching on their devices than how long they're doing it. "As long as it's educationally focused, there's really not that negative effect from the screen time," he says. "Screens, you remember, can be really helpful to kids. They're ways for them to connect socially with their friends, to get this educational content, it's really about the quality."

As part of your daily schedule, Dr. Flores says to make sure you schedule in time to reconnect with your kids. "Parents are stuck trying to manage work and their schedules, and also trying to manage teaching schedules, and kids' schedules and food and lunch and all this other stuff. It's a lot to manage," he acknowledges. "Those routines can also help parents to ‘plan fully’ schedule a time to be with their child and talk about things that they would normally talk about, but because of school, they don't necessarily have the time."

Basically, Dr. Flores says don't sweat the extra time your kids are spending in front of a screen, adding to make sure that it doesn't affect sleep, activity level or family relationships. "If parents can do that," he says, "then everything else is fair game."

Watch Pete's story in the video above to get more helpful tips from Dr. Flores.

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