Screen Time in Quarantine, and How to Manage it

Kimberly Lindgren, OTR/L - April 27, 2020

As our community has moved to virtual learning and we are practicing social distancing, our time spent in front of a computer, tablet, and phone has most certainly increased. While we know limiting screen time is best practice for our little ones--American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that 5-year-olds spend 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programs--these days, extended screen time is unavoidable. At times, it’s a parent’s lifeline for allowing a mental break! 

Here are some tips for making screen time a positive one for you, your child, and entire household:

  • Be honest with your child and explain why we take breaks and limit screen time. Some possible, simple explanations include:
    ○ “Sometimes it makes our body feel lazy”
    ○ “Our brain learns better when we do things in real life and with other people” 

  • Enhance learning. Co-watch high-quality programs or co-play games with your child. Ask questions during and afterwards to support learning and social skills . Older shows from our days, like Mr. Rogers and Arthur, are wonderful examples of quality programs. They are slower paced, use simple visuals, and allow a child to process and reflect. 
    ○ What was your favorite part?
    ○ What would you have done if _____ happened to you?
    ○ They seemed angry when ________ happened. How would you feel? 

  • Be a role model for your child. Don’t use your phone at the dinner table if this is one of your household rules. Put your phone down/close your laptop when having a discussion with your child. 
  • Be easy on yourself, and use the time well. Managing your own emotions as a parent is definitely a priority at this time--you’re child is only as emotionally regulated as you are! When giving screen time to your child, use it as an opportunity for a mental break and reboot. Stretch, do yoga, call a friend. Avoid stressful tasks like reading the news.
  • Create household screen time rules so that your child knows what to expect. If your child is old enough, include them in the conversation (“What helps you get off the iPad when screen time is over?”). Write this out, discuss with your child, and remind them before screen time occurs. See an example of screen time rules and a visual chart to post in your home.

Possible rules to consider establishing in your home:

  • Time limits and time frames
    ○ No screens after dinner (or at least 1 hour before bed)
    ○ 15-20 minute increments of screen time
    ○ 2-5 years old, recommended to have 1 hour or less per day 

  • Use a visual timer with screen time
  • Set consequences when rules are broken
  • Tasks first, then screen time
    ○ Chores
    ○ School work
    ○ Physical activity
    ○ Play time 

  • ‘Technology free’ zones
    ○ Bedrooms (except for Zoom school/therapy)
    ○ Mealtime 

We are all guilty of ‘grabbing the screen’ when we are bored. Thankfully most of us have already had the childhood experience of being inventive in our backyards, creating games and imaginative stories with the other neighborhood kids. Children need our support to schedule technology free moments. At first, they will feel uncertain, bored, frustrated, or even angry. Let them sit with these feelings and figure it out (*literally tell them, “It’s frustrating, but I know you’ll figure it out ”)! To become skillful innovators when they are older, children must solve the problem themselves rather than being handed the answer (i.e. handed a screen or told how to play). The process of problem solving will equip them with life-long skills of emotional regulation, flexible thinking, and how to play. 

I hope you find these tips helpful, as we are all navigating a more virtual world these days. We are counting down the days until we can see you and your little ones again!


*For kindergarten aged and older. Children who are younger will need more support for how to play. Check out our Play-At-Home blog by Nora for some ideas :)

Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018). Retrieved from