Why talking to your kids about their time online is more important now because of COVID-19

A social media researcher is reminding Islanders that it's vital to talk to your kids about the time they spend online. With schools closed because of COVID-19, kids and teens may be left to occupy themselves for much of the day.

Bonnie Stewart, an assistant professor of online pedagogy and workplace learning at the University of Windsor, said increased screen time may be inevitable. But she said time online should be approached the same way as time spent anywhere else.

"If we think of online as a social space, and at the core that's how the internet is built, it's the same rules apply to any other social space," Stewart said. 

"If your teen could leave the house right now, you might not let them go out in a city that you're not familiar with or that you only know a tiny little corner of, and spend nine hours a day, days on end, hanging out in spaces that you never go."

Stewart said it's important to accept that the online world is where kids and teens — much like adults — are connecting with their community during this time. And that connection should be encouraged, if it's something positive that offers comfort. 

"The internet allows all of us at different ages, different kinds of connectivity," Stewart said. 

"Different kinds of social spaces, different kinds of creative spaces that can be really, really important to people right now. The internet is a place where we're sharing good news, where we can buoy each other up."

Submitted by Bonnie Stewart

Stewart said part of supporting children and teens with their time online includes teaching them how to think critically about what they read and act cautiously about who they interact with. 

"We need to consider the web as one of the places that we're taking care of our vulnerable populations, meaning our youth right now," Stewart said.

"But at the same time, also treat the web as a space where they can do good things and find community, and do creative things together and collaborate in social ways."

In this unprecedented time I wouldn't worry all that much about screen time per se. — Bonnie Stewart, University of Windsor

Stewart said talking with children about good uses of their time online, and what is and isn't acceptable behaviour with both friends and strangers, is a good step for ensuring time online is healthy and positive. 

And for older children who want to learn more about COVID-19, Stewart said to talk to them about where to find reliable, accurate information. 

Unprecedented time

Stewart said that as much as additional screen time may be alarming for some parents, it's not necessarily a reason for concern. 

"In this unprecedented time I wouldn't worry all that much about screen time per se," Stewart said.

"As long as everybody's getting a little movement, maybe some fresh air in their days, and helping keep the household running."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.