- With kids out of school and many parents working from home, the struggle to limit kids' screen time is more intense—and more important—than ever. Tweet This
- Watching videos and scrolling through Instagram all day might keep kids quiet, but it’s not the best for their mental health or development. Tweet This
Editor’s Note: The following essay is the sixth post in our week-long symposium on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect family life.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, many parents were already grappling with how to regulate their children’s screen and phone time. Now, with kids out of school and many parents working from home, the struggle is more intense than ever.
First, the good news: Spending an hour or two a day with devices during leisure time doesn’t seem to be harmful for mental health. And doing homework or educational activities on devices for a few hours a day is a virtual necessity and is unlikely to be harmful, so we can cross that off our list of worries as well.
But that doesn’t mean parents should give up on managing kids’ screen time during this extended period of staying at home. Watching videos and scrolling through Instagram all day might keep them quiet, but it’s not the best for their mental health or development.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Limit time on social media. The data are still developing, but social media appears to be more harmful to mental health than other types of screen time. If kids and teens want to keep in touch with their friends, they can video chat using Facetime or Skype—that’s the closest they can get to in-person social interaction with friends these days, and it’s vastly preferable to the curated, competitive, and anxiety-provoking world of social media.
2. Use parental controls. Nearly all phones, tablets, and laptops include the option for parents to set limits on how many hours a day the device is used and which apps are allowed. Tools like this are especially helpful when we can’t constantly supervise our kids. One warning: many school-provided devices come with games of questionable educational value, and school-provided devices usually disable parental controls. If you can afford to buy a device for your child, it might be easier to regulate it.
3. Preserve sleep. Even if it seems difficult or impossible to regulate your kids’ screen time during the day, you can still make sure their devices don’t interfere with their sleep. Set parental controls to disable devices a half-hour before their bedtime, or physically take devices away at night. This prevents kids and teens from using their devices when they are supposed to be sleeping; it also stops them from using them right before bedtime when the stimulation is likely to interfere with sleep. With activities and school canceled, teens can no longer claim they have to do their homework on their devices right up until bed. This is a great time for everyone to finally get enough sleep.
The stay-at-home orders around the country have another silver lining: More family time. We are each other’s in-person social interaction right now. Even with all of the ups and downs of this strange time, that’s something to cherish.
Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.