Kids, Screentime, and Corona… What Should Parents Allow?

These aren’t “normal” times.

You’re probably home, your kids are home, your partner is home—you’re all stuck at home, day after day, week after week because of the coronavirus crisis.

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Your normal routine has been turned upside down, and it has for your kids, too. They may be on their phones, iPads or computers most of the day to perform their schoolwork or chat with their friends. They are watching cartoons or playing video games. If they’re older kids, maybe they’re scrolling through social media.

All day, it seems.

You feel bad about it, because you hate seeing your kids sitting around, languishing in front of screens.

But you may also recognize the irony of that concern and discomfort.

After all—especially if you’re still needing to work—you’re also on screens all day, getting work done or attending virtual meetings. At night you’re exhausted and binging on television or obsessively watching the news for any updates on COVID-19. You’re chatting with friends and family on screens, too.

Screens are certainly serving a purpose right now.

Screens may be your babysitter so you can get done what you need to get done. They are keeping your kids entertained or occupied, and they’re keeping you from losing your mind. They are keeping all of us “connected” when we have to stay isolated.

So you’re torn.

Should you set boundaries with screen time?

Or should you just let it go?

How to Set Compassionate, Reasonable, Smart Expectations Regarding Screen Time at This Extraordinary Time

I’ve done a lot of work in the past with other therapists and child psychology experts on helping parents reduce the time their children spend on screens.

And right now, we’re backing off of some of those guidelines.

This is an unusual, somewhat impossible time, to keep kids entertained all day long—especially if you have to work or have other responsibilities.

Right now, screen time can be somewhat of a gift, because it keeps us sane, connected, entertained, educated, employed…

Child on a mobile device

However, I have a caveat.

It’s something to keep in mind for younger children—something I learned from child psychiatrist, Dr. Dunckley. Interactive games on an iPad can be more stimulating than watching TV. So if you need your kids to be entertained for a while, it may be better to have them sit in front of the TV than interacting with a hand-held device.

Otherwise, your child may be going into hyper-arousal, which can then make it very difficult to pull them away from the device.

When your child is into a very stimulating, highly-interactive game and you ask them to turn it off, you may have to then deal with a lot of resistance and irritability.

It’s no wonder! Video game designers have made these games very addictive.

So expecting your child to be able to turn off that interactive video game after 20 minutes—and acting shocked when they don’t—is not a reasonable expectation. Of course it’s hard for them to turn that off!

They’ve been having all this feel-good, dopamine transmitted to their brain while playing this interactive video game, and you want to pull the plug on that.

How to Avoid the Meltdowns About Limits on Screen Time

Here’s how to limit the meltdowns and battles around setting limits on screen time:

Structure your day and their activities to transition into other, moderately stimulating activities.

These can be play activities you do together. You can offer to watch a favorite TV show with them. You can do something active together, like a silly game. You can do a creative, crafty activity with them, or a kid-friendly science experiment, or read them a favorite book.

You can turn some music on and dance.

There are all kinds of things you can do to help them transition from that high-dopamine rush of interactive video games to something still fun, but that is active or educational or just bonding.

And I know this in itself can be a challenge, especially if you’re not used to having to imagine new ways to entertain your kids or keep them entertained, all day every day.

It just takes being patient with yourself and taking things one day at a time. And reaching out for help when you need it.

That’s part of the reason I created my program, Parenting Through the Corona Crisis.

This program will help reset your expectations so you can be more compassionate with yourself and your kids right now.

It will give you quick and easy tips and ideas on how to structure your days with your kids, how to keep them occupied or entertained, and more importantly, how to make them feel safe and loved during this challenging time.

Right now is not the time to expect perfection—from yourself or your kids.

Things will feel wonky. That’s okay. We all feel wonky right now! We need to give ourselves and our kids a break.

But we can also use this time to get closer with our kids and to create new ways of bonding that will get us through this stronger and more resilient.

That’s why I’ve partnered with Flourish, so I can help extend my help and guidance to as many parents as possible in these trying times.

When you subscribe to our FREE Parenting and Relationship Advice Newsletter, you get access to more articles like these, from an accomplished community of carefully selected experts on parenting, relationships, and wellbeing.

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I can’t wait to share all this with you.

We can be stronger as a result of all this, and we can become closer with our kids.

Please take care and stay well.


Susan Stiffelman

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