Back to School in 2020

After years of dreading back-to-school shopping, I actually missed it this year. My son started his classes on Monday. No new clothes, no backpack, no debating what snacks to buy. Either a laptop or a Chromebook is the primary need. In this unusual environment, many of us are wondering how much time our kids should be spending on their screens. If that’s the majority of the school day, should we let them play games or be on social media after school too?

Connected Camps is a fun place for kids to hang out with friends, but of course everything we offer is online. Fortunately, our founders are not only leading scholars in game-based learning, they’re also parents. They help me stay grounded when I’m thinking about technology and screen time.

Valuable Technology Guidelines

One thing to consider is the value of using a device, rather than blanket rules. For example, co-founder Mimi Ito says that in her family of older kids, “mobile phones and Alexa are a regular feature of our family dinners. I subscribe to a ‘no tolerance for ignorance’ policy when we debate issues. We look up facts on Wikipedia to back our assertions. We ask Alexa for the weather report when discussing our weekend plans. We share photos off our phones of what we did that day.”

This strategy fits well with advice in a recent report from Common Sense Media, which said: “For today’s parents, counting the hours of screen time seems to miss the point. They need to prepare their children for a digital future, and they want their children to be digitally skilled and to make good judgments about what they do online. Parents themselves may be digitally skilled, even enthusiastic, about the digital world and want to pass this on to their children.”

Learning and Playing Online

That’s so true! Just as we parents often turn to online sources to learn how to fix or build things, our kids can learn and explore through the digital world. Through our programs at Connected Camps, your kids might learn new skills like coding or creating a YouTube channel. They could learn about astronomy or engineering.

Or (imagine this!) – maybe your kids purely enjoy gaming. It’s their thing. They can join some of our esports clubs or camps and meet other kids who have the same interest. We also offer free moderated Minecraft servers for kids ages 8-13 and teens. Just like being on a soccer team, they’ll practice with others and get better at individual play and team skills. That camaraderie and friendship is a great experience for kids. It doesn’t matter if they’re online or in-person playing: they’re hanging out with friends and making social connections. That’s important!

Building Friendships Online

Even the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has backed down from their “screen time” rules that were based purely on time and didn’t consider kids’ interests or the way they were interacting in the digital world. Now they advocate against a one-size-fits-all approach and suggest that parents can be “media mentors” and not just time cops.

Personally, I love the connections that my kids make online. My son and his friends have been playing all kinds of online games since March. Fortnite is still the favorite, and I can see his friendships growing stronger as they defeat rivals (or even lose a seemingly simple match). My older daughter had her study abroad program cut short due to Covid, and she and her friends around the world are staying attached through social media.

Our thought partners at the Connected Learning Alliance conducted research on teens and wellbeing and said, “Most teens and tweens say social media helps support social-emotional wellbeing, boosting confidence and alleviating anxiety, loneliness, and depression.” 

Social connections – even those made online – are important. Peer relationships are vital, but mentors also play a big role in kids’ development. Our counselors and coaches are passionate about the topics they’re teaching. They’re also great role models for your kids. Whether they’re playing games or teaching the intricacies of Minecraft, they’re considering your child’s wellbeing and development.

Counselor Bianca leads several girls coding camps. She said, “My role as a near-peer counselor is to make sure all of our students’ voices are heard. I listen if they need help, pay attention to their interests, and much more. I really think it’s such a rewarding experience to help the girls out with their code; they are so proud of themselves. Coding isn’t easy, so it’s awesome to see these girls improve. I always put Minecraft signs next to them that say “You can do it, <name>!” to encourage them while they’re figuring out the code.”

Parents, whatever form “back to school” takes for your family this year, we wish you all the best. Focus on finding the right balance for you and your kids. May they learn during school hours and enjoy a combination of safe socializing offline along with a mix of creative and productive online time. If you’re looking for fun programs and quality guidance, our team is here to help.