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With kids home from school doing more of their learning online—and parents across the country just trying to get a little bit of their own work done at home—kids are getting record amounts of screen time these days. Preschoolers have jam-packed video conferencing schedules, kindergarteners are watching read-alouds on laptops, and elementary and middle school kids are suddenly turning in every assignment online.

How can we help kids adjust to spending so much time on screens, especially when they may have a strong association with screen time as playtime? And how can parents adjust to letting kids have so much more screen time when we've been told we should cut back on how much time our little ones look at our phones?

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The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in March acknowledging, basically, that previous expectations around screen time may need to be adjusted given the new reality for so many families, and experts have suggested that the screen time metric to focus on is quality, not quantity.

Here's how to help kids adjust to being on devices more than usual:

Create separation between learning screen time + play screen time

In the big picture, screen time is screen time regardless of how it's being used, and there are always risks to overusing something. However, it's helpful to differentiate between screen time used for learning activities and screen time for play activities.

For example, reading a book online or participating in a Zoom class meeting is different than playing a game or chatting. Establish clear expectations around what constitutes "learning time" and "playtime" on devices. For each type of activity, be clear about the where (maybe learning always happens at the kitchen table, and play is usually on the couch) as well as the when (learning in the morning and play during the hour before dinner).

It's important that kids aren't media multitasking by using multiple devices or apps at one time when they're trying to learn. Keep them on one screen at a time, which will help them stick with their activity until completion.

Set healthy limits around using devices, even for school

Use a timer or parental controls to set and enforce time limits for devices, even when your kids are using a computer or tablet for school activities. Children are used to having scheduled blocks of time at school. You can schedule your child's learning screen time so that there's a defined block of time for working on an online math lesson or for watching a video of a science experiment. This makes the expectations clearer for the kids—and makes screen time easier for parents to manage.

Parents can also use parental control apps like Qustodio to see what kids are doing on their devices and how long they are using different apps and websites for. The app allows parents to set a limit on how much time kids are spending on entertainment and recreational apps and websites and allow unlimited use for educational tools.

Include screen-free learning time

Creating a balance of screen time and other non-screen activities is important. Going back and forth between activities can help avoid the problems associated with using devices for lengthy periods of time.

Make sure kids get physical movement throughout the day, give them time to engage in hobbies and activities without devices and have them participate in tasks around the home, such as helping make dinner or folding the laundry. Including kids in activities like cooking, cleaning and organizing gives kids practice with reading, writing and math while encouraging the development of necessary life skills.

Give yourself a break

Ultimately, parents need to give themselves some grace during this time to try to do the best they can with finding balance. A recent study suggests that active screen time, such as playing an educational game or interacting with friends or family online, can have a positive impact on child development. Even if you were previously opposed to screen time for your kids, take heart: This situation isn't forever.


This post was originally published on April 7, 2020 and updated April 13, 2020

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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