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3 Tips For Return to School Screen Time Changes

Now that many of us will begin the school year with remote learning, parents are panicking about the increase in screen time. Many parents have allowed extra screen time to survive - a short term solution to a tough situation.  

Now what? As remote learning becomes a longer-term situation, many parents are uncomfortable with the amount of screen time their children have been getting but don’t know how to make the transition.  

Here are 3 tips for preparing for the upcoming school year - scaling back screen time without escalating conflict.

TIP #1: Communicate Expectations Now 

Don’t wait until school starts to communicate that screen time changes are coming. Do this now.  

Your child is as anxious about the upcoming school year as you are. They are nervous about learning from home. They miss their friends and fear life will never be the same. If you wait until school begins, when you’re both stressed, to break the news about less screen time, conflict is likely.

Instead, let them know now that screen time changes are coming. Tell them,

“You got extra screen time because we suddenly had to stay home so much, and we all struggled to handle the changes.  Even though it is fun, it’s not healthy to continue with as much as you have now. Once school starts, we will scale back, so enjoy your last few weeks of extra screen time!”

Letting them know in advance gives them time to prepare. Encouraging them to enjoy their last few weeks lets them know you are not anti-technology or trying to punish them. You are simply scaling back in order to secure their emotional and physical well-being.   

TIP #2: Separate Entertainment Screen Time From Other Screen Time

All screen time is not created equal. It is not the same to do an educational math program online as it is to play a game. It is not the same to make a video with iMovie as it is to watch a YouTube video made by someone else. 

There is an important difference between active engagement and passive consumption of media - these types of activities engage different parts of the brain and have different impacts emotionally and developmentally. This distinction has never been so important for parents to understand.  

Entertainment screen time is generally the source of conflict, so decide now how much will be appropriate for your child come fall- regardless of how much time they will spend online for school and social purposes. Then explain to your child what will happen: 

“You will be doing school on the computer and will continue to stay in touch with your friends online as well.  Separate from this, you will get an amount of screen time each day/week that is for pure entertainment. It’s not the same to learn or socialize online as it is to play games and watch videos,”

Note: Parents rightly ask whether group games count as social or entertainment. To determine, assess the nature of the game.  Which parts of the brain are likely engaged? Group online chess  = educational / social; Group Fortnite = entertainment.   

TIP #3: Set A Screen Time Routine

Set a screen time routine now that can continue once school starts.   This will communicate clear expectations and give you something to build on when remote learning begins. 

Sample Schedule:

8:30-10 am: Get ready, Eat Breakfast, Chores

10-11:00 am: Educational Screen Time

11:00 - 12:30 pm: Outdoors

12:30-1:30 pm: Lunch

1:30 - 3 pm: Playtime

3 - 4 pm: Social Screen Time

4-5:30: Entertainment Screen Time

5:30- 6:30 - Dinner

6:30- 8 pm - Family Hang Out

8 - 9 pm: Reading, Go to Bed 

This is just an example, but you can see how this summer schedule can easily morph into a fall schedule by expanding Educational Screen Time in the mornings.  Starting this type of routine now will make the fall changes much easier for you and your child to make.  

This coming school year is unprecedented and will inevitably be marked by surprise and unpredictability.  By clearly communicating expectations, explaining the differences between various types of screen time, and starting a routine now, you set yourself and your child up for a clear & smooth transition, at least in the area of screen time.

Sign up for our newsletter (click the 'sign up' button on this page) to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


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