Screen Time Tips When Stuck at Home

Whether it’s a series of snow days or the need to stay home to keep from spreading illness, keeping kids at home for an extended period of time can be challenging. The situation is further complicated if parents need to work from home and are feeling the toll of anxiety and stress themselves.

It is expected, and OK, that kids’ screen media use will increase during this time. The following tips may help parents ensure that this media use is positive and helps the family and community:

  • Make a plan. Talk with your kids about what your daily structure will be, how you will handle stress, and when you will take breaks from tele-work or school work to relax and connect with each other.
  • Communicate with teachers about what educational online and offline activities your children should be doing. School districts should have more information about local telecom providers that may be providing free Wi-Fi to low-income families, and some may be able to distribute tablets or laptops.
  • In early childhood, teachers may not have an online curriculum to share. Good options include:
  • Use social media for good. Check in with your neighbors, friends and loved ones who may also be stuck at home. Advocate for the children in your community and share resources with neighbors. If schools are closed, are students eating meals and able to access the internet for at-home learning?
  • Use media for social connection. During social distancing, people can feel isolated and disconnected. Social media will allow families and teens to continue to have interactions with friends and supports.
  • Be selective about viewing positive content, and use trusted sources to find it, such as Common Sense Media, who have been compiling lots of ideas for families hunkering down right now.
  • Use media together.This makes it easier to monitor what your older children are seeing online, follow what your children are learning, and to relax together while you appreciate the storytelling and meaning that movies can bring.  
  • Take your child (virtually) to work. Parents may find themselves working from home, or telecommuting, in situations like these. While expectations may need to be adjusted, this is also a chance to show your kids a part of your world. Inviting them into your day or encouraging imaginative “work” play may be a novel way to apply “take your child to work day” without ever leaving home.
  • Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to keep children intellectually engaged while you get stuff done.
  • Find offline activities that help your family calm down and communicate.It might be daily walks around the block, board games, reading, or family dance parties. (Remember that if you are trying to control the spread of a virus, these activities will have to be in your household only, not others in the neighborhood). Know which activities spark your children’s interest (kicking the ball around? baking?) and make time for these. Create the space for family members to talk about their worries. Schedule some “phys ed” time for the whole family to move their bodies
  • Parents - notice your own tech reactions. When you’re getting too sucked into news or social media feeds and it’s stressing you out, take a break. 
  • Limits are still important. The same guidance applies about technology use not displacing sleep, physical activity, reading, reflective downtime, or family connection. Make a plan about how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night. Challenge your children to practice “tech self-control” and turn off the TV, tablet, or video game console themselves - rather than you reminding them!

Additional resources:

Written and reviewed by Jenny Radesky, MD
Updated March 2020