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Virtual learning raises concerns about screen time dangers

How to manage online schooling and screen time
Posted at 11:42 AM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 17:56:52-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating technology and turning online virtual learning into the new normal — and that has some parents concerned about too much screen time for their kids.

Questions parents are now facing include how do you control screen time when all of your work for school is now through video.

"My main concerns, especially for the little ones, is that they will be on the screen too long and they'll just lose interest they'll start fidgeting and getting distracted at home," Juliet Brown, a mother of four school-aged kids said. "It's hard to keep them engaged."

With two teens and two others under the age of 10, Brown said she is swamped keeping up with their schooling. Her school district in the California town where she lives is entirely virtual.

"To have a balance have a routine to go outside, take breaks and not put too much pressure on yourself or your kids," Brown said.

For advice, Brown turned to clinical psychologist Dr. Tracy Bennett. Bennett founded the website "GetKidsInternentSafe" in 2014. The site offers free and paid courses to help parents hold their kids accountable online.

"You don't think it can happen to your kid, but all children are vulnerable, and that's why I create courses to give them accountability and judgment," Dr. Bennett said.

Recently, there was so much interest in managing screen time that she launched a new course that directly addresses those concerns. Bennett said parents have to trust their kids but monitor their activity as well.

"But, now predators can get ahold of kids and groom them day after day month after month before their parents can figure it out," Dr. Bennett said. "And, we don't get the same social cues online that we do in real life, so it's easy for predators to create this image of themselves where there is no way to disprove it. I've had 12-year-olds where I worked in cooperation with the FBI, who we couldn't get the 12-year-old to stop reaching out to the predator, even knowing that that predator was an adult even knowing that that predator was contacting other kids."

Dr. Bennett said prevention is the best defense against digital dangers. Her courses don't tell parents to restrict screen time if kids make mistakes. But, to help them understand what they did wrong.

"Parents need to give them the grace, the warmth, the comfort to help them work through instead of just shaming them and taking away their smartphone," Dr. Bennett said. "I'm not screen-free as an educator and a psychologist there are ways to weave screen time into a very healthy existence, but it takes some education and patience and grace to allow yourself the time to learn that."