Technology and media seem to be ever-present in the lives of children, teenagers, and their parents. Since the Coronavirus crisis began, families and individuals are using media, such as Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook, more than ever before, in addition to the myriad of learning technologies used by many families for schooling. For many, the living room has become the new classroom, and parents have been engaged more than ever before in learning how to navigate both their children’s digital homework and fill their children’s extra free time.

Parents are often now more dependent on using media to keep their children busy since so many other activities, such as parks, museums, and swimming pools, continue to be closed or have limitations. Fortunately, technology and media can be leveraged to help parents connect and play a larger role in healthy development if they know how to take advantage of media time with their children.

Watch With Them

YouTube, Netflix, and Disney+ are popular and easy media entertainment for children and teens to enjoy. Toddlers may learn how to work a TV, smartphone, or tablet to turn on and watch their favorite shows whenever they want. With a variety of devices, teenagers have easy access to watch funny videos on the internet or binge-watch their favorite shows. Parents should monitor and limit media to healthy levels and join in the screen time to watch alongside. Families can choose a designated time of day to watch together or choose a particular series to follow together as they connect through media.

Watching, sometimes called co-viewing media, not only provides parents with an opportunity to spend time with their children, but it also provides a setting to monitor and teach. Parents can discuss what is on the screen, share personal experiences, and become more aware of the shows their kids prefer. They may talk together about characters in a show or movie to teach their children what behaviors they believe are or are not appropriate. They can laugh together and be moved together as they watch a variety of media together.

In addition to co-viewing, parents can help expose their kids to new and different media options. One mother became tired of the “dumb dads” portrayed on popular shows designated for children, so she introduced her kids to “The Andy Griffiths Show” from the 1960s. Once her kids started watching this “new show,” they found it funnier than the “dumb dad” shows they once thought they loved. Thanks to this mother, these kids broadened their media literacy and created some new family media memories.

Play With Them

From the first Nintendo to the most recent phone app games, video games have become more common and accessible for kids to play. Smartphones and laptops have also made video and app games more widely available. In fact, about 90 percent of kids between the ages of 2 and 17 play some sort of video or app games regularly. Instead of becoming annoyed at their children’s frequent gaming, parents can set appropriate boundaries and then support their children’s interest by taking time to occasionally join in and play with their children.

One father explained that playing video games with his sons “allow[ed] all of us to play together either cooperatively or competitively. We laughed. We screamed. We giggled. We hugged. We bonded. It was a lot of fun.” Parents can also use these times to start conversations, ask questions, and learn more about their children’s interests.

Follow Them

Most teens today (about 95 percent ) own or have access to a smartphone; up to 45 percent of teens say they are online almost constantly using social media. YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most frequently used social media platforms among teens as they watch, post, snap, and connect with their friends.

Parents who use social media can connect with their teens in a unique way. As parents use social media, they can look for ways to connect and not only to monitor. Parents can connect with their teens by following on Instagram, communicating through Snapchat, or chatting on Marco Polo in a family chat. Teens who are connected with their parents on social media feel closer to their parents in real life. They can also comment and share memes, ideas, or cool quotes, especially when they feel the post might be especially appreciated.

A leading media researcher, Dr. Sarah Coyne concurs. She found that parents can feel more connected to their teens through social media. She tells parents: “You can do a lot on social networking sites. Your kid might post a picture, and you might show support by liking it or making a nice comment. It gives more opportunities to give positive feedback or show affection. Social networks give an intimate look at your teenager’s life. It lets [you] know what [your] kids are going through, what their friends think is cool or fun, and helps [you] feel more connected to [your] child. It gives a nice little window into what is going on.”

Create With Them

Another popular media outlet for kids and teens are short, fun videos. Since creating and watching short videos are all the rage today, parents can connect with their kids by planning and creating videos together. YouTube and other video media apps make it accessible for families to create and record dances, lip-sync performances, or even host their own gourmet cooking show together each weekend.

Other media outlets, such as Pinterest, provide new craft ideas that parents can use to engage in arts and craft activities with their kids. Families can also create and share relatable and funny memes with one another and with other loved ones. Once created, all of these videos, activities, or projects can be shared through social media and group messaging apps to help families stay connected and keep in touch with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and lifelong friends.

In conclusion, parents connect with their kids when they are actively involved in their children’s lives. Instead of making media use an uncomfortable struggle or becoming the overbearing or nosey parent, these shared media experiences can build relationships and memories. Especially in this time where media use may be changing dramatically for some families due to quarantining, these new opportunities to share media can create many happy and healthy moments that will build some great media habits long after the coronavirus restrictions ease.

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