Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, children across the world are affected by physical distancing, quarantines and school closures. While in many countries the impact looks to be short-term, in Lebanon’s particular circumstances – the multitude of intertwined perpetual devastating crises – are having exacerbating huge mental and emotional toll on families and children that will last for years to come. The current conditions are causing continual strain on parents across the country who see their children more and more isolated in the narrow and broad senses, anxious over online learning/teaching, bored due to a lack of access to outdoor activities, and uncertain about their future.
Fear and grief over the impact of the crises is growing day in and day out. Fear of the impact of technology(1), where technology is available, on children self and well-being is justified.(2) While screens are used in positive ways for distanced learning to replace presence at schools and to maintain social connections, their negative effects include compulsive device use, potential anxiety and depression, and other health outcomes(3), as our research at INTA has shown(4),(5) . The long-term lockdowns caused by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have been shaping parenting and digital media habits at every home.(6) Let’s announce it bluntly, screen time is winning all battles.
Parents are at a loss on what to do. “How do we manage our children’s screen time during the crises? How can I reconcile being home-school teacher, full-time caregiver, work-from-home employee, and shrimp for my spouse?” We are living unprecedented times with schools intermingling with homes reducing their impact to screens (where screens are available), work is happening in the virtual world for the employed, crises are unfolding on TVs and social media as real-time serials to be continued, socializing has moved to the virtual world including our loved ones fleeing the country, buying food and selling belongings is happening via web applications, and we are left to organize it all.
Any hope of moving forward and sustaining a foundation of resilience in children should prioritize the most important things at school and at work. We have to acknowledge that we are not going to attain the same level of learning or productivity that we were used to before social distancing and the other crises. We have to seize this as an opportunity to model to our children like our ancestors in this part of the world did when they experienced similar difficult times, and they not only survived, but learned to thrive.
Regardless of age, your loved ones, including children, need to feel without any doubt that you are there for them in a reliable and predictable way. Children are spending most of their time on screen and seem to prefer them over their parents, but more importantly they are observing how their parents are coping with the awful, frustrating, and challenging multitude of crisis. Many children may not be learning right now (whether they have screens or not), but they can learn how to cope with and adapt to such difficult times, be flexible with new situations, and how to calm down after getting upset. It is the time where they can learn life-long survival skills for the rest of their lives to be successful. It is essential to have a very predictable consistent time of the day where your children know that you are with them screen free: no phone, no TV, and no computer, not even near you. This strategy tells your children that they have your undivided attention which they dearly miss from their teachers, and their friends and relatives.
-Children should experience routines throughout the day.(1)
-You don’t want your children to be online hour after hour.(7),(8)
-Set up a schedule and expectations for your children for the day.(9)
-Include in the schedule certain times of where you can be together and without technology.
-Set a time during the day for your children to exercise to maintain good physical health.
-Encourage them to listen to informative podcasts about other cultures and successful people.
-Children should stay connected to other people in their lives, friends, grandparents, and relatives, that they miss.(10) At these time technology is essential. It doesn’t have to be about chatting all the time. They can use interactive apps to play games such as puzzle games.
-Teach your children to have quiet time and how to calm down which is much needed these times.
Above all, take good care of yourself. Keep your concerns away from your kids by communicating them to your extended family and friends.
Dr. Nazir Hawi
Associate Professor, Computer Science Department, Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences and Chair of INTA Board of Directors
(1) Hawi, N. S. (2012). Internet addiction among adolescents in Lebanon. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 1044-1053.
(2) Hawi, N. S. (2019). The COVID-19 Outbreak and Screen Time: Allies or Foes, available at: https://www.ndu.edu.lb/Library/Assets/Micro/Files/INTA/The%20COVID-19%20Outbreak%20and%20Screen%20Time%20Allies%20or%20Foes.pdf
(3) Hawi, N. S., Samaha, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2018). Internet gaming disorder in Lebanon: Relationships with age, sleep habits, and academic achievement. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(1), 70-78.
(4) Samaha, M., & Hawi, N. S. (2016). Relationships among smartphone addiction, stress, academic performance, and satisfaction with life. Computers in human behavior, 57, 321-325.
(5) Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2017). Relationships among smartphone addiction, anxiety, and family relations. Behaviour & Information Technology, 36(10), 1046-1052.
(6) Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2017). Relationships among smartphone addiction, anxiety, and family relations. Behaviour & Information Technology, 36(10), 1046-1052.
(7) Hawi, N. S. (2019). The Dangers of Video Game Addiction. Available at: https://www.ndu.edu.lb/Library/Assets/Micro/Files/INTA/UNDP%20Peace%20Buildding%20-%20English.pdf
(8) Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2016). To excel or not to excel: Strong evidence on the adverse effect of smartphone addiction on academic performance. Computers & Education, 98, 81-89.
(9) Hawi, N. S., & Rupert, M. S. (2015). Impact of e-Discipline on children's screen time. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(6), 337-342.
(10) Hawi, N. S. (2020). Children, Technology, and Online Strangers. Available at: https://www.ndu.edu.lb/Library/Assets/Micro/Files/INTA/Children,%20Technology,%20and%20Online%20Strangers.pdf