Building a Healthy Environment in a Virtual World


This has truly been a year of firsts for Tennesseans and folks across the world. COVID-19 upended school districts, forcing administrators and teachers to transition to a remote learning environment.

Families continue to adjust to this new virtual world and learning environment. Youth are spending an unprecedented amount of time in front of screens, whether for school or personal time. While it’s completely understandable to want to ignore some of these habits right now, it’s important for parents and guardians to understand why taking a short break occasionally may be what you and your kids need.

COVID 19 has been overwhelming for so many youth and adults alike. You’ve likely noticed that you or your kids reach for a device when feeling bored, anxious, alone, or unentertained. It’s okay to allow for additional screen time every now and then. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics that can help build a healthy environment for your kids in a virtual world.

Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.

Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Co-view, co-play, and co-engage with your children when they are using screens—​it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Don't just monitor them online—interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it. 

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children's friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.

Apps for kids, do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.

Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programing. Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children.

Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.

Additional Resources:

Online Safety, Cyberbullying and Gaming

How to Cope with Social Media Peer Pressure