Device Use While We’re All at Home: Good, Better, Best

— Written By Christa Gibson
en Español / em Português

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Let’s be real here- we are ALL using our devices more these days. More binge TV watching, more Zoom calls, more mindless scrolling through Facebook and Twitter! However, we’ve been told repeatedly that we need to limit their screen time. How to do that when we are all stuck at home together 24/7?
We’ve gathered some tips for controlling screen time- and for feeling better about the screen time that our kids are having. I’ve divided these tips up into BEST case scenario- for those days when you are feeling like Super Parent and can do some serious Grade A parenting; BETTER tips for days when screen time is going to be a part of life, but maybe you can direct it in an educationally or developmentally positive way; and GOOD for those oh-so-common times when you don’t have the energy to stop the screen time but want to make sure your child is still protected.

Best Case Scenario

In the best-case scenario, your child is focused on something besides technology for the majority of the day. To get to this magical land, we need to start with a plan. A few planning tips include:
  • Set and maintain limits. Kids need consistency- something that is extra hard right now. This means setting rules and standards for your kids and expecting them to abide by them. Try to stick to routines, even in the midst of this strange stay-at-home life we’re all stuck in.
  • Make a technology use plan. The plan should include how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night. For help creating a Family Media Plan visit Healthy Children.
  • Challenge children to practice “tech self-control“. Encourage your kids to turn off the TV, tablet, or video game themselves – rather than your reminding them.
  • Help your kids do other things. Help your child make a plan for what they would like to do with their time. You can give them some ideas by creating a choice board or menu of options for them, or simply by writing down some choices on a sheet of paper. Once they decide what they want to do, help them gather the materials they will need and get them started on the task. Once they are started, you can check in every so often and praise them for sticking with the task.
  • Practice what you preach. It’s tempting to keep reaching for your phone to check email, texts, Facebook, or the news. But your kids will be the first to call you out for not “walking the talk.” Plus, they’ll pick up habits from you. Model the media behavior that you want your kids to emulate.
  • Don’t feel guilty about doing your own work! Lindsay Powers, who runs the No Shame Parenting Instagram account says this:
“We as parents feel like we need to schedule every moment of our kids’ lives, but we don’t. We should give them freedom to create and explore. If your kid walks away from an activity after 10 minutes, take a pause. They might start complaining and ask you for another activity or to be entertained. But part of this is helping our kids develop self-sufficiency, creativity, and boredom – remember boredom? … When my kids complain, I say, ‘Go color,’ and they whine a little, but then wander off and figure something out.”


The first tip here is to LOSE the guilt around device use. Pediatricians are saying more and more that it isn’t about the AMOUNT of screen time but the CONTENT & CONTEXT of screen time. Mike Robb, PhD from Common Sense Media says this:

“If kids are engaged with high-quality content that stokes curiosity and fuels imagination, who’s to say that should end when they’ve hit their screen limit? Research has also uncovered the importance of kids’ experience with media, based on who uses media with kids (siblings? parents?), the purpose of the content (school? entertainment?), and who’s talking with kids about what they’re watching (Daniel Tiger and Tiger King both make for great mealtime conversation). In other words: Context matters, too.”

Other experts advise ensuring that technology use does not take the place of sleep, physical activity, reading, reflective downtime, or family connection. Basically, the idea is that technology isn’t bad in itself. It is dangerous when it takes away from other activities that we need to do to be healthy human beings.

Finally, follow your kids’ cues. If you find your child ONLY wants to be in front of the screen, is more irritable, depressed or has excessive tantrums or mood swings these might be signs to lessen screen time.

Good Enough

For those days when you have a screaming toddler or a screaming boss to deal with,  didn’t sleep that well the night before and aren’t on your A Game, here are a few tips that may make leaving your child alone with an iPad less guilt inducing. 

  • Podcasts and audio books are great ways to keep children’s minds engaged while parents get things done. They are ‘technologies’ that don’t involve screens, so you get a point for ‘no screen time’!
  • Be selective about what your children watch. Use trusted sources to find positive content, such as Common Sense Media, which has been compiling lots of ideas for families hunkering down right now.
  • If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats or social media to stay in touch.
  • If you let them run free, consider using parental controls. Here are some good resources on the pros and cons of using parental controls by age group. Free Parental Controls include Screen Time (for Apple devices), Family Link (from Google, available on Android and Apple devices), and Digital Wellbeing (for Android devices). Caroline Knorr of Common Sense Media shared a few other ‘safety tips’ in a recent email newsletter.
    • Use privacy settings. Your kid should make their online accounts private and enable all available restrictions that prevent total strangers from contacting them. Tell them not to respond to any contacts they don’t recognize.
    • Recognize red-flag feelings. Sexting, cyber-bullying, and harassment can all crop up when kids chat. Encourage your kid to trust their gut if something makes them feel uncomfortable and to block and report anything inappropriate. Also, never move a chat off the original platform, with a few exceptions.

    More Screen Time Questions?

For more great tips on family media use best practices visit: