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How to Set Up an Effective Screen Time Plan During Remote Learning

With the start of the school year inching closer each day, many parents are scrambling to figure out how to make it all work. Screen time is a big question mark for many families.  

What does a screen time plan look like when school is streaming on zoom? Can children watch movies even after doing online education? How much is too much? While we will not get this perfect (and shouldn’t aim for perfection), here are some good ways to structure screen time during remote learning.

Separate Entertainment Screen Time From Other Screen Time

This was covered in last week's blog and is worth repeating again. All screen time is not created equal. If your child is learning or creating online, it is not the same as passively consuming a show, videos, or a game. Screen time that helps kids develop or deepen relationships is not the same as screen time that replaces human interaction. Count these types of screen time separately. Trust your gut to evaluate the high-quality screen time from the more concerning type of time spent online.

Tell your child:

“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.”

Set A Routine That Includes Scheduled Screen Time

We are living in a global crisis and embarking on an unprecedented school year. We are anxious about how to manage this new normal, and our children are similarly afraid. Will I ever go to school again? How will I understand my schoolwork without a teacher by my side?  Having a routine is inherently soothing. With routine comes clarity and predictability. Setting a routine for your child’s day is critical to a successful fall semester. Here is an example:

8:00 - 9:00 am: Get ready, Eat Breakfast, Chores

9:00 - 11:30 am: Educational Screen Time

11:30 - 12:00 pm: Outdoors/Play

12:00 - 1:00 pm: Lunch, clean up

1:00 - 2:30 pm: Educational Screen Time

2:30 - 3:30 pm: Outdoors/ Play

3:30 - 4:00 pm: Social Screen Time

4:00 - 4:30 pm: Outdoors / Play

4:30 - 5:30 pm: Entertainment Screen Time

5:30- 6:30 pm - Dinner

6:30- 8:00 pm - Family Hang Out

8:00 - 9:00 pm: Reading, Bedtime

Tailor this to your family and schooling needs but keep in mind a few key points:

  • Alternate online and offline time so your child can physically and emotionally reset after screen time.  
  • Be clear about when and how much entertainment screen time they will get. 
  • Put entertainment screen time late in the day so your child can look forward to it.
  • Aim for consistency but since that will be impossible, just clearly tell your child that extra entertainment screen time is for that day alone.  Tomorrow, back to the routine.  

In addition to screen time, each day should ideally include some exercise, chores, face-to-face interaction, and unstructured hang out time or play. When this happens, call it a massive success!  

Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Screen Time Overdose

Parents often agonize about finding that ‘perfect’ amount of screen time. In general, this approach is problematic, but during a pandemic, this is downright parental torture. Instead of obsessing about an exact number, watch how screen time affects your child to decide when enough is enough.  

If your child is constantly moody, withdrawn, angry, or defiant after screen time, these can be signs that their screen time is negatively affecting them. It could be the content of the screen time - a game that leaves them amped up, videos that expose them to age-inappropriate material, schoolwork they don’t understand. It could also be the amount of time in front of the screen. Make changes if possible. Replace the shows or games. Cut down on optional screen time hours. Talk to their teacher. Your child may be angry about the changes, but letting them continue is akin to giving them food that causes an allergic reaction. It’s not safe. 

Stay Connected With Your Child

It’s easy for screen time to become a flashpoint for everyone’s frustrations with this stressful time. Instead, try to stay connected to your child. Regularly check in to explore their feelings about how the pandemic has changed their lives. Validate your child’s desire to connect with their friends and be entertained. Let them know you want them to enjoy these benefits of screen time during this difficult period - you just need to keep them safe and balanced along the way. Try to have some fun together each day. Giggle, tickle, bike ride, rough house, bake, build, play, dance, hang… and yes, even watch movies together. It may be this more than anything else that will keep your child emotionally protected through this challenging time.  

Our children will inevitably get more screen time than we ever imagined during this upcoming school year. However, this doesn’t need to be a struggle. With the right routine, we can maintain enough of a healthy balance between various types of screen time and other important life activities. With vigilance, we can notice when enough is enough. With connection, we can (and will) survive this intact, together.  

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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