5 Tips to Manage Screen Time During Quarantine

How have your opinions about screen time changed in the past month?

Posted Apr 15, 2020

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

If you are not part of the adult population who spent nine and a half hours per day in front of screens pre coronavirus, it's likely you’ve recently joined the rest of us. Perhaps you're one of those adults who criticized children and teens for spending so much of their time on screens, railing against them talking to their friends via social media or video chats rather than getting together face-to-face with them. Maybe you questioned their ability to connect to others, feeling strongly that technology puts up an invisible wall between people. I wonder if you are thinking differently about it today.

If not, it's probably important to take a step back and observe how life has changed in one short month. In a world dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, many adults who are fortunate enough still to have jobs are working remotely. They’re communicating with their family and friends via Zoom, and many are participating in the Tiger King pandemic on Netflix. Parents are also more closely monitoring children's screen time, ensuring that they spend enough time on the computer to complete their classwork. Kids and parents are using online classes to learn many new skills while they are sheltering in place.

The current concern about too much time is warranted. But in this case, it’s because we (kids included) can’t seem to get away from screens even when we want to. All of us, adults, kids and teens included, are anxiously awaiting when we abandon our screens and hang out with friends, mingle in crowds, and even return to school. But the excess screen time is serving a purpose, allowing us to proceed with our work, educational, and social lives.

In normal times, it's far too easy to let screens and technology take over our lives and the lives of our children, and it’s even easier now. So I encourage families to take action, but not to overreact, as we have far more important issues of concern.

Here are five tips to manage screen time during the COVID-19 quarantine:

  1. Safety. The safety of your family is your first mission. Mike Brooks, the co-author of Tech Generation, urges parents to attend to kids’ basic requirements of food, water, sleep, and health by invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Kids also need friends, movement, activities, and time to play. Most of the group activities they enjoy are not suited to social distancing, and they may well get bored stuck at home. If this means changing the rules for screen to reduce the temptation to interact physically with others, consider it. I have been told of many teens with ADHD sneaking off at night to be with their friends. Remember, teens think they are invulnerable and often act before thinking. 
  2. Minimize screen exacerbated anxiety. I strongly encourage parents to keep their kids (particularly kids under the age of 12) away from live television, where the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic are front and center. If playing video games keeps a child's mind off of some other scary thoughts, allow more of this, at the same time keeping them from scary video games and movies, as well.
  3. Increase “healthy” activities, not just screen time. Kids and adults have more free, recreational time during the quarantine. Anecdotal reports from my friends and colleagues suggest that there is an excess of eating, drinking, and Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/Disney+ binging going on in households across America. This is the perfect time to develop a regular exercise, yoga, or meditation routine. Estimates suggest that it takes between 30 and 66 days to solidify a new, healthy habit. You and your family have the time, so take advantage! Engaging in vigorous physical activity may be more difficult for some who live in apartments or crowded cities, but there are still opportunities to get outside, take a walk or bike ride, or go for a hike. Use screen time to spur indoor workouts. There are thousands of yoga, guided exercise, and dance videos that you could do as an individual or family. Expect this of everyone during the quarantine.
  4. Maintain your family’s sanity. Getting along, reducing conflict, and keeping busy are all essential for your family’s mental health. Living together 24/7 for weeks at a time means that kids and adults need some of their own space, even if that space is the distance between one’s face and a screen. While loosening the limits on screen time to create more peace at home may be helpful, don’t abdicate control of screen time for your younger kids. Instead, talk to them about your decision to allow them more time than normal and how you plan to work it out. Don't eliminate structure and expectations. For example, be aware of teenagers who might want to spend all night playing video games and sleep until mid-afternoon. Don't give up on your expectations, but recognize that these are extraordinary times and that you need to adjust.
  5. Model care, concern, communication, and cuddling in your own screen time. If parents use some of their screen time to talk to friends, check in on family, or communicate with co-workers, kids will observe what many of them already know, that screens can connect people with each other. Because of social distancing mandates, physical proximity may be limited to your immediate family. So I suggest cuddling with your spouse or kids and enjoying a bit of screen-based entertainment. Find something you all like, which in itself might involve hours of a fascinating family discussion.  

My intention is not to encourage a free-for-all screen time over the forthcoming months but, instead, a loosening of limits that could make your household a calmer, safer, and saner place. If you can use screen time in a positive fashion, I encourage you to do so.