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Studies are only starting to show the dramatic increase of screen usage in the United States, as parents everywhere are struggling with balancing working at home with life at home.

The “natural” anxiety the pandemic has on families concerning financial realities, healthcare concerns, and career worries is causing an increase in stress for everyone. Additionally, parents are struggling to find healthy ways of keeping their kids entertained without causing more harm.

For decades, experts have debated the impacts of screen time on kids. There are certainly arguments to be made about keeping kids active and finding appropriate content. However, in 2020 there are tens of millions of websites, apps, games, and videos that can help keep kids engaged, entertained, and connected to friends.

During the pandemic, screens actually provide a benefit to kids trapped at home with limited access to safe social interactions, and they provide needed connectivity with peers in a medium with which they are comfortable.

But the big question is—how much screen time is too much screen time?

A study completed by Unicef in December 2017 found that the impact of screen time on the mental health and well-being of kids is fairly small. The study showed that the key factors that impact kids’ health such as ACEs, family relationships, and parental support are far more important indicators of long-term mental and emotional well-being.

In other words, the added pressure of COVID-19 and keeping kids occupied for parents who are feeling guilty about screen time is probably doing more harm than good by creating added stress to an already stressful situation.

So, how can parents keep a healthy balance of screen time during COVID-19?

There are lots of ways to limit screen time in healthy ways, but also remember that screen time isn’t all bad. Remember to monitor the quality of the content as much as you worry about the quantity of screen time.  

Related: 5 Signs Your Child is Overusing Technology

Here are 5 helpful tips for balancing screen time.

Set Expectations

Kids’ bodies and brains are most engaged when they are on a schedule, which means disruption of routine creates added stress for kids. As we continue to settle into our new normal, it is important to keep as much routine in your life as you can, but that doesn’t mean your schedule has to look the same as it did prior to the pandemic.

It is okay to let the kids sleep in a little later. This will give moms and dads working from home the chance to have a couple of hours of peace first thing in the morning to knock out their to-do lists.

When the kids wake up, make sure they eat a full breakfast, get dressed for the day, and brush their teeth. This will signal their bodies that it is time to be awake and engaged. It also gives you the chance to spend some quality time with them that you might not usually get to do over breakfast. This is also a great time to check in on any homework that might be due for online school and follow up on missing assignments.

Setting the expectation of responsibilities around the house while they are home is reasonable, but only when not taken to extremes.

Once the kids are up and they have taken care of their responsibilities, then it is okay to allow for some screen time.

Make a point to schedule in some breaks so that your kids (and you!) don’t spend hours on end on your responsibilities, which can cause burnout.

Download Our Guide on Setting Expectations

Make Time for Exercise

This is another great way to spend time together during COVID-19 and also ensure that Mom and Dad get a break from their screens. You can plan short walks or runs into your day that allow you to get up and move around, and there are thousands of great yoga tutorials or home workouts you can find for free online. Adding some exercise to your routine will help you and your kids keep your spirits up during quarantine and encourage mental breaks from the screen.

This is also a great excuse to spend time with your kids and check in on how they are feeling about everything going on.

For more information about how to make the most of walking together, check out our eBook on Having Meaningful Conversations.

Download Our Guide on Speaking Their Language

Prioritize Mealtimes

The easiest way to break up screen time is by sharing a meal. By using breakfast, lunch, and dinner as intentional opportunities to connect, you can give your kids a break from the screen and remind them that they are important to you. Remember, the study done by Unicef illustrates that family relationships are a much more powerful indicator of your child’s long-term success. Let the dinner table be a platform for great conversations.Download our eBook on the Importance of Family Dinner

Give Countdowns

Imagine you are in the middle of watching your favorite show or movie and someone comes in and turns it off right in the middle of a major plot point—how frustrating is that?

Parents often do this to their kids without even realizing it. If you come in and turn off the TV or game without giving them any heads up, you are creating a power shift in your relationship which tells the kids that they have no power. These kinds of moves create toxicity and resentment.

If you are worried about screen time (or anything else they are doing for fun), give them a countdown.

Simply saying, “Hey, at two o’clock we are going to stop and have lunch,” gives them a mental expectation of a stopping point. Reminding them of the stopping point thirty minutes beforehand eases the transition even more.

PRO TIP: This strategy works with anything your kids don’t want to do, such as countdowns to bedtime and countdowns to when you leave the park. Using countdowns will save you a lot of head and, depending on the age of your kids, hissy fits.

Read a Book Together

If you are still really concerned about the amount of screen time your kids are experiencing during quarantine, try reading a book together as a family. You can create a little book club right inside your house. Everyone gets a say in the book or series and you can read together or independently every day.

The trick here is to not make it punitive or make it feel like assigned reading at school. In fact, if your kids are still in school, maybe hold off on this until the summer. If you have small children under the age of five, try planning 20-minute breaks a few times throughout the day to read or color together.

The idea is to do something together away from the screen to create some bonding time.

When it comes to stressing over screen time during COVID-19, the trick is to remember balance.

For other ideas on non-screen activities, check out these blog posts:

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