In the workplace, a common challenge (more so in 2020) has been balancing the flexibility of remote-work with the needs of productivity. As adults, we find ways to reap the benefits and continue to deliver results.
Now, our kids are also in a remote environment. However, it isn't remote-work. It is remote-learning. There is more at play than just productivity and delivering results.
Here are a few bits of advice to help your kids get the most out of remote learning and avoid some of the potential harmful side-effects.
1. Avoid Screen-Creep
2. Build in Brain and Body Breaks
3. Maintain Structure and Routine
This might be a word I've coined, maybe it's been around for some time. We're a very limited screen-time family with the kids. They don't watch TV during the week, no recreational iPad/iPhone use, no video games, etc.
But, some TV or perhaps a movie is allowed on the weekends and that was it. Frankly, before the pandemic, they got more screen time at school than at home. However, now with the adoption of distance learning and online-school there is A LOT of screen-time.
The students split their school time in a variety of ways. They might on a video conference platform like Zoom or MS Teams. Or, they might be navigating their way through a plethora of apps to complete assignments.
The video conferencing makes sense to me. The apps do not. Get live, interactive instruction from the teacher and other students. Then, complete assignments that are in a text book or print outs. Instead, the students are on too many apps for us to monitor. And, the line between assignment and video-game is way too blurry.
(Sisyphus may have had more success changing people's minds)
The use of screen-oriented tech for schooling by definition increases the amount of time the kids are spending on screens, on devices, and online.
Of course, they will perceive this as work, and may then want to spend additional time for entertainment and recreation.
This is where the creep begins. The kids (students) go from maybe 30-60 minutes of screen time per week to 6+ hours a day, plus wanting the hour or so of weekly entertainment.
My suggestion is to make a hardline and make this the limit.
More creep will try to work it's way in, because of the app-style of assignments. Watching "a" youtube video for school, becomes several unrelated videos. Or, they might become enamored with a reading or coding app.
It keeps them busy and their minds occupied. This is not a good thing. Kids need to be bored, moving, and creative. More on this later.
The increase of screen-time for kids poses two immediate challenges. The first is mental/psychological and the second is physiological.
First, we must be concerned about the content they are consuming. Is it productive, age-appropriate and aligned with our values?
Second, we must be concerned about the physical strain the screen time will cause. Eye strain, neck strain and headaches are all common symptoms. (Will we start seeing hand and wrist issues in kids soon as well?)
On a longer run, there are more dire concerns too. Increase of screen time use among children correlates with less sleep, negative self-perception, anxiety, depression, and even increased rates of suicide.
It is that serious.
Please make a hard line to limit the amount of screen time that's available to your children.
Build In Brain and Body Breaks.
Remote work and remote learning is here to stay. So, we must create a system and build habits that help us stay healthier in this new way of doing things.
The tendency for both adults and kids will be to be more sedentary, to spend more time seating in front of a computer or tablet, in our daily lives.
Even if you sit at a desk and work at a computer in an office there is more walking around than when you work at home. You have to get up to speak with other workers, go to meetings. Likely, even the bathroom is farther away in an office than in your home.
The similar is true for our kids. With an "in-school" setting they're moving around the classroom, going to different classrooms, lunch, recess, bathroom breaks, etc.
As a result, we need to intentionally build in some more movement during the day.
The kids will have planned breaks during the day. Instead of staying at their desk and staying on the iPad, they should take a break from it all. Get up, play, move around. They need to rest the eyes and brain and invigorate the body.
They also need to drink more water. Because of the lack of movement, there's no internal impetus for the kids to drink water. They don't feel thirsty. Getting them moving will help with this, but also make sure they always have a water bottle close by to take sips from.
Maintain Structure and Routine
This is something that has been fading away for many of us for a long time. Modernization has mostly benefits, but there have been some interesting side effects. These side effects have the potential to affect our physical condition, mental health, and the quality of our relationships.
We all have intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in our lives. While intrinsic motivation might be "better", extrinsic motivation is also important and helpful.
For example, you may know that getting up earlier makes you more productive and improves your mood throughout the day. You know you should wake up at 6am instead of 7am everyday. However, if you don't specifically have somewhere to be it is harder to do.
Just think about the difference in our behavior on weekends vs weekdays. This makes sense, because it is good and necessary to be able to "take breaks" to rest the mind and body.
Now, with lingering shutdowns, social distancing protocols, and "new normals" we're sinking into a twilight zone of sorts. This is compounded by the always on, always connected mentality that the advancement of communication technology has created.
The old model was go to work, come home, maybe do a few things work-related, and then you're done for the day.
The old model for children was, go to school, maybe some after-school activity, come home, do some homework, and then they're done for the day.
But, with the constant connectedness the school or work day never really ends and it never really begins. The traditional structures have been blurred. Now, this offers greater flexibility and maybe even better productivity, but it also comes with costs.
Humans don't operate optimally when they are at full capacity 100% of the time. We are very good at doing that for short bursts, but it's not meant to be a constant thing. You may think you are capable, but you are not. In actuality, your capacity is decaying over time.
This is especially true for children, that are growing, learning, and developing. They grow when they rest, both figuratively and literally. Their soft and open minds need to be exposed to a variety of things. Their experience should be as eclectic as possible.
The drudgery of a constant log in, log on, always connected is not good for them, it's not good for us.
This is where structure and routine come into play. Structure and routine are the extrinsic motivators, the external controls that help us stay on track. I'm not saying that you or your children need to be locked into a stodgy 9-5, or 7-3. But, it is important to have guidelines and boundaries for the day.
Time-blocking is a great tactic, used by many of the most productive folks. Think about exercising regularly. If you don't specifically set aside time to do it, does it happen?
The same is true for all important activities. And, those important activities get pushed out more and more the longer we are in this "twilight zone".
I'll leave you with some tactical questions. Do you have a structure or routine to set aside and dedicate time to the following?
- Physical exercise for yourself? Physical exercise or play for your kids?
- Dedicated time for relationships? With your significant other? With your kids? Important friendships?
- A way to expand yourself and your value? (Yes, I am talking about earning potential). Reading, continuing education, professional development, etc. Your children will follow this example.
- Recreation, relaxation, entertainment, socializing?
- Sleep? This is probably one of the most neglected activities.
President, Dragon Gym
"Be the Coffee."