Frequently Asked Questions about Covid-19 Part 4: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?


Any tips for monitoring screen time while in quarantine?

I know that we’re all living in a new reality in which our access to the outside world exists through screens. Even school is through screens right now! So my recommendation is to try to use screen time wisely, and not feel guilty if there is an increase in the amount of screen time. That being said, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published a set of recommendations for time in front of screens (television, iPad, iPhone, video games) that I think still hold relevance, as completing physical activities or independent play time is very important for a child’s development. With this in mind, here are some recommendations for having a healthy balance during this time:


  • Parents juggling their own work at home may find themselves using screens to help keep their children preoccupied. To that I would say, try to cut yourself some slack! Remember that your number one job right now is to manage your own emotional and physical well-being so that you can care for your child. If extra time on a screen gives you time to reset, then use that time to do something that helps you feel better such as a quick yoga video, a phone call with a friend, or a few minutes of silence.
  • Try designating certain times as screen-free. And if possible, do this for the whole family! Having set times each day in which the screens are (or are not) allowed will help to build some consistency. And limiting access for all family members will help model the importance of being away from electronics, regardless of your age.
  • In my last post I wrote about sleep and the importance of limiting screen time at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. The light from electronics actually travels through your eyes and tells your brain that it is not time to sleep. If you must use screens at night, turn on the night mode feature.
  • Monitor what your child is viewing on their screens by opting for security features. It is important that the content is age or developmentally appropriate and safe. You want to be sure that video games, television shows, and social media content isn’t too advanced or graphic – or illegal/unsafe. Many people don’t realize that video games actually have ratings. I also recommend watching or playing alongside your child when possible – this is good bonding time and will give you insight into what they’re viewing.
  • Try to limit intake of the news. I wrote in a previous post about talking to your children about COVID-19 and touched on the importance of making sure what they are hearing is both age appropriate and developmentally appropriate. This can also be particularly helpful for adolescents and young adults; if you know what they’re watching, you will have a better understanding of the types of information they are receiving, and whether it may be helpful to talk through this for clarification.


Do you have any suggestions for what my child can watch?

In addition to making sure that the content is safe and age-appropriate, there are also many options for educational and even therapeutic videos. Headspace recently teamed up with Sesame Street to create videos to practice mindfulness and patience for younger kids. Check out these recommendations for quality YouTube channels from Chicago Parent or educational videos from TV guide.


My child refuses to get off of their screen, any tips?

I frequently hear from parents that their child has difficulty transitioning off of their screen. One thing that might help is having set screen times that are predictable and consistent. You can also try using a visual timer that indicates how much time is remaining. Give your child warnings: “five minutes left of screen time”, “two minutes left of screen time”, “30 seconds left of screen time.” Try to resist the urge to give them “five more minutes” as five minutes can quickly turn into ten minutes, or into a habit whenever time is up! If your child is upset that their time was up before they finished a game, make sure that they know when they will have access to it again. For example, saying “your time is up, you can finish tomorrow at 2:00.” It may also be helpful if screen time is followed by another enjoyable activity. For example, if a child gets off their screen to complete math homework (but math is their least favorite subject), maybe add in another activity in between. For older adolescents or young adults, it may be helpful to have screen time as an earned activity; for example, after completing chores, they may “earn” 10 minutes on their screens.


Any tips for preparing for screen-time changes when Stay-At-Home orders are lifted?

If your children are getting extra time on electronics now, it may be helpful to explain why this is occurring. One thing to help prepare for this is to create a screen time plan (see this example from AAP) that reviews when electronics can be used and for how long. Once stay-at-home orders are lifted, plan ahead with your child by adjusting the plan. Remind your child that even though screen time may be more limited, there are lots of other exciting activities that they will get to do.


Click Here for Part 5: At-Home Social Skills


This post is part of a multi- part series of articles written by Dr. Jamie Barstein, child clinical psychologist at The Help Group with expertise in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities as well as their family members. 

Contributions to this series were made by Dr. Laurie Stephens, Director of Program Development at The Help Group.