Compared to previous generations, teens and young adults in today’s Gen Z spend more time than ever engaging with the world through technology. Whether on laptops, tablets, or smart phones and TVs, these 21st century digital natives easily log between 7 and 10 hours a day in front of a screen.
In contrast, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials were much more likely to have grown up playing outdoors with neighborhood kids—learning how to develop social skills, problem solve, and come up with creative things to do on their own.
Sadly, this shift away from physical activity with peers means that youth today often struggle with forming relationships and being able to focus their attention for extended periods of time. And they disproportionately suffer from obesity, diabetes, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Add to this equation the rapid and jarring shift to remote and hybrid learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts predict that the number of sedentary hours kids spend interacting with technology in front of screens will continue to climb.
For many homeschool parents, this trend is even more worrisome given the reality that home-based education relies heavily on technology. However, the flexibility that comes with homeschooling compared to traditional education means that reducing screen time is very doable with focus and planning.
Here are 6 tips to reduce your homeschooler’s screen time—and not drive them crazy in the process:
1. Set expectations and be accountable
Breaking bad habits is hard and requires dedication and discipline. For many students—and parents as well—technology can be very addictive. This means that open communication and intentionality is more important than ever. Explain to your kids that too much screen time can lead to negative outcomes. And then set expectations about the screen-time limits you are implementing.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to talk about how your family’s values differ from their friends’ families. Or perhaps this means that you as parents need to walk your talk and not binge watch TV shows for hours on end. Above all, be willing to hold both your kids—and yourselves—accountable.
2. Be realistic and consistent
Beyond the technology in your homeschool, if your kids spend a lot of their leisure time on screens start by setting smaller and more attainable goals. By gradually decreasing screen time, you’ll establish a pattern of success and build momentum.
Also, look to establish limits for each form of technology—whether it’s watching TV, playing video games, or talking on the phone. By setting clear and consistent rules, you can avoid the daily drama that comes with telling your children it’s time to turn off the TV, computer, or smartphone.
3. Be engaged and make time to unplug as a family
After school or work, make it a point to set aside daily time to unplug as a family and spend quality face-to-face time together. Perhaps this means a tech-free dinner time when you give your kids your full attention. Or maybe it’s also the hour before bedtime. When everyone agrees to set down their technology, your family will naturally foster deeper bonds of love, communication, and trust.
4. Create tech-free zones in your home
Establish areas in your home where technology—like cell phones, handheld video games, and laptops—are not allowed. This could be the dining room or the kitchen, places reserved for meals and family conversations. And it could be your child’s bedroom. By not allowing technology in their sleeping quarters, you can rest more easily knowing they won’t be tempted to stay up late—and will get higher quality sleep.
A related idea here is to have everyone put their devices away during screen-free hours—or plug them in at common-area charging stations—so they don’t become a distraction.
5. Outside or inside, encourage other activities
As with previous generations, kids today benefit greatly from being in the great outdoors. By disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature through activities like taking a walk, playing with the dog, participating in sports, building forts, climbing trees, jumping rope, riding bikes, playing frisbee and more, the human brain releases endorphins that boost mood, increase happiness, and improve physical health.
For indoors activities, kids can take a much-needed tech-break by engaging in fun activities like music, art, crafting, reading books, and playing board games together.
6. Lead by example
This is where the rubber meets the road. When parents spend hours on their computers or continually check emails, look at social media, binge watch videos, and consume series after series on Netflix, their kids will see little reason to reduce their screen time. And more importantly, failure to lead by example in this area means that parents will forfeit precious time with their children to instill values that set them up for success as adults.
While screens are unavoidable in today’s technology-driven world, homeschool parents have more flexibility than most to create a family schedule that reduces screen time and improves health outcomes. With a little planning, focus and consistency, sensible screen limits will allow your kids to participate in all sorts of indoor and outdoor activities when the school day wraps up that engage the body, mind and spirit—and develop social skills and curiosity to serve them well throughout life.