How Parents Make Screen Time Count During Pandemic

It’s not all games, kids

Key Takeaways

  • Parents have found educational and social benefits to having their kids spend more time on screens during the pandemic. 
  • The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has recommended screen time limits for kids.
  • Some experts say that, if used appropriately, screen time can be beneficial for kids.
A parent with two children sitting on a grey sofa, looking at digital tablet.
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Parents are finding ways to keep their kids occupied with online educational activities during the pandemic.

Lockdowns, social distancing, and remote learning are taking their toll on families. Kids are spending more time online, and parents need the break that technology offers. But many parents are struggling to make sure that online activities aren’t a waste of time or harmful to developing brains. 

"To make sure that our kids aren’t just letting themselves loose online, we’ve enrolled them in some of the things they’re interested in," Daniel Carter, the founder of electric scooter and skateboard site Zippy Electrics, said in an email interview with Lifewire.

"One of my kids is enrolled in a guitar class, and the other is enrolled in piano. This way, we’re confident that they’re spending their time online productively."

In Pursuit of Peace and Quiet

Carter is among many parents letting their kids spend more time looking at screens during the pandemic. "The main reason my wife and I allow our kids more screen time during this pandemic is that we need some peace around the house if we want to be able to do our work in a calm environment," he added. "It may just be a couple of hours, but it’s a couple of hours of peace and quiet, nonetheless."

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has recommended screen time limits for kids. The guidelines say that kids up to 18 months should not use screens except for video chatting along with an adult.

Between 18-24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver. For children 2-5, parents should restrict non-educational screen time to about one hour per weekday and three hours on the weekend days.

Two young children on a couch using a tablet computer.
Mint Images / Getty Images

These guidelines probably weren’t written with frazzled parents in mind, having to deal with their kids through long hours of lockdowns and homeschooling. 

Kathryn Kelly said her 12-year-old daughter has been kept educated and entertained with technology since the pandemic began. "It has helped immensely as my husband and I both work from home, and it would be impossible to work and keep her busy/entertained without more screen time," she said in an email interview. 

Expert: Screen Time Can Be Good

Some experts say that, if used appropriately, screen time can be beneficial for kids. 

"One year, my son and I decided to geek out on learning about, eating, and making pizza for the year and blog about it," Dr. Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine studying youth and new media practices, said in an email interview. "This created opportunities for family bonding throughout the year."

Chris D'Costa, the founder and CEO of Totem Live Accounting and a father of three teenage children, said in an email interview with Lifewire that he gave up trying to limit his kids’ screen time during the initial lockdown last year.

"It may just be a couple of hours, but it’s a couple of hours of peace and quiet nonetheless."

"My children started remote schooling here in Europe in March, and I had to lift the screen time limits on their computers so that they could attend online lessons," he said. "During the summer, it just stayed that way as my partner and I felt it was hard enough for our children to socialize properly, especially given their ages."

D'Costa said that his youngest child’s computer literacy has been boosted by all the time she’s spent in front of screens. "She got frustrated at first because her older sister, who has dyslexia, has been using a computer at school to help with reading since she was 10 and was obviously much more proficient," he said. "There was an element of knowledge sharing, and it has been useful for them to learn that not everything can be done via TikTok or Snapchat on the phone."

There’s no doubt that too much screen time is not great for kids. But as the pandemic rolls on, parents are finding benefits and drawbacks to having their kids spend time online.

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