COVID-19: Rethinking Screen Use

By Nadja Streiter, LMSW

As COVID-19 spreads across America, many parents are struggling with how to deal with their children who are not in school and have hours to fill. Screen time is an easy answer. Kids love it, and it can occupy a lot of time. But rather than toss out all your hard-won rules and regulations regarding use and overuse, here are a few suggestions to help you and your kids manage their screen time through this difficult period.

While every family will have to find the balance that works best for them, it’s okay if yours involves relaxing screen-time restrictions a little, especially if your children aren’t problem users. I’m not suggesting a free-for-all; I’m simply proposing that you work together to find an effective balance under these extraordinary circumstances.

Quality Over Quantity

How kids spend time on screens matters more than how much time they spend on screens. Start by changing your focus from quantity to quality: Are your kids watching cat videos on YouTube or Nat Geo videos? Are they FaceTiming with a friend or scrolling through TikToc? Are they playing games that make them angry, or laughing and having fun with friends? Are they viewing Twitch streamers for hours or learning to code?

If your child is gaming, set guidelines for in-app purchases and be aware of the intersection between gaming and gambling.

Consider how screens can be used to promote health. It’s recommended that you find time daily to exercise and meditate and that you model that for your kids. There’s no time like the present to put a yoga video on YouTube or download an exercise app. You might explore mindfulness and meditation—and yes, it is okay to use screens for guidance. It might also be worthwhile to break out the Nintendo Wii from the attic!

Watch and Learn

Think about how screens can be used for skill-building. Do you know how to use all the features on your phone or your laptop? If you have a tech-savvy kid in the house, let them teach you how! This is a great way to build parent-child connection and is a win-win for everyone. It’s also a great time for any of you to pick up an old instrument or practice a new language, using the internet as your guide.

Screens can bring families closer in other ways too. Instead of binging on Netflix, binge on the hours of video you have from that family trip, or your kids’ swimming meets and recitals. Set up your screen for home Karaoke or a dance party.

Use Screens for Good

Non-profits are taking a huge hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A quick Google search of virtual volunteer opportunities will provide you with a long list of alternatives—some COVID-specific, others, such as  Be My Eyes serving those who are truly isolated and alone during this crisis.

Finally, remember you are your child’s most significant role model, and rest assured your kids are watching how you engage with technology, now more than ever. It is okay to want to stay informed but if you’re on Twitter for hours, it’s hard to justify why they can’t be on Instagram for hours. If you can’t put your screen away because you’re truly working, explain that to your child. Take the opportunity to tell your kids a little about your work. You’d be surprised how interested they really are. Once you’re finished working, be sure to practice what you preach.

Nadja Streiter is a clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in Technology and Video Game Addiction.

Related Smart Kids Topics

  • A Crisis and An Opportunity