Family Screentime Tips in a Time of Social Distancing

quarantine with writing.jpgquarantine with writing.jpg

We are in an unprecedented time and one where technology has the potential to meaningfully help us stay connected and socially distant in a time of pandemic. We are extremely thankful for how technology is connecting us – even right now – while we likely sit semi-quarantined in our respective homes.

It’s incredible that our schools may be able to continue through e-learning. And yet, amidst this situation, we want to continue to be thoughtful about our digital health. Qustodio reports that in Italy, where lockdown started this week, kids have been spending 71% more time online compared to the start of the outbreak. It’s understandable as millions of parents juggle full-time work and full-time childcare.

Many have asked us what suggestions we would have for managing screentime amidst this situation. In many ways, it comes back to our typical “rules of thumb” – which align with our organization’s name – but with an extra emphasis on the final one – time well spent amidst coronavirus quarantining.

Start with yourself. Most young children will remember how their home felt during this pandemic more than anything specific about coronavirus. Our kids are watching us and learning. Related to screens, when studies show the average person looks at their phone 80 times a day – without intention – that will double for all of us amidst this situation. Start by considering what you’re modeling for your kids. Of course, we’ll never be perfect, but an honest look at our own digital habits is a great first step. Look away from your own device, and particularly to help with kids struggling with anxiety about coronavirus, take a break from the constant news feed or turn off the breaking news on your TV. Consider this a sacred time to invest in those you love most. Create a clear routine as much as possible. If you can model a peace and ease for this transition, it will be extremely helpful for your kids. Also, consider narrating for your kids a bit of what you’re doing on your devices. Explain, “Mommy is going to work on her computer for the next few hours so that I can…” and explain a bit about what you do for work and how it matters to society.

Turn-in zones. Amidst all the cancelled sports practices, activities, and meetings, there is an opportunity – likely, it will be easier than ever to eat dinner as a family. This helps support one of the top tips for digital parenting – designate specific device-free zones – times and places to recharge and reconnect. According to the Washington Post, “All forms of rituals can help connect families…but the small, regular rituals…tend to have the most lasting benefits.” If you’re looking for a place to start, we suggest meal times. Research demonstrates that family dinners can have remarkable benefits, including a sense of belonging, language development, better behavior, less substance abuse, and healthier habits. These benefits are not dependent upon an organic, homemade, gourmet meal, but they are dependent upon quality time. If family members are distracted by screens, it typically interferes with building family relationships. But, if you put those devices away for 30 minutes, it may provide small opportunities to connect – over a joke or story from the day – and these small moments can help create stronger connections away from the table. Another place we’d particularly suggest: removing devices from bedrooms overnight. We’ve heard that nearly 80% of kids are using their devices when they’re supposed to be sleeping, with many waking up throughout the night for every notification. Just as our devices need to recharge overnight, so do we.

Accountability. While we believe that healthy tech use goes beyond just finding the “perfect” filter, we still believe that it’s important to provide a safety net (e.g., Qustodio, Bark, Circle, OurPact) to make it harder to accidentally stumble onto undesirable content or to make it harder to act out on impulses. We encourage families to apply filters and settings that support your wishes, limiting content or time on devices as you see fit. For example, to “help” those dealing with quarantine in Italy, Pornhub made premium access free for all in Italy. This is likely to reach many kids, too. While these filters should help with accidental exposure or to make it harder to act on impulses, the first line of defense is still family conversations. Ask your kids often about what they’re viewing and encourage them to use screens in public parts of the house.

Rethink introduction. As we’re caught juggling work and childcare, it can be easy to hand your kids tech as a much-needed babysitter. But before doing that,     consider the side effects and consider whether some of our ideas below could be good supplements.

Time well spent. As the loneliness epidemic shows us, we are more “connected” than ever, but more disconnected from real relationships. And with quarantines, we are at risk of this happening even more. We want to encourage you to use this as a time to not just ask others in your family to spend less time on screens…we want to encourage you to see it as an invitation into something richer and more meaningful:  where you honor your time and give your attention to the things that matter most to you.  Here are some ideas for “time well spent” offline and online. As the New York Times said, “Enjoy the freedom and frivolity that come with an unscheduled break. One day won’t matter to your kid’s schoolwork, but it will set the tone and ensure that everyone starts with a positive outlook.” We encourage you to consider ways to spend time offline but also strategic ways to use online time.


  • Take time to talk about this situation – What are your fears? What are ways that – as a family – we can find silver linings amidst this?

  • Read a book (or likely, many)!  You can read along with them…or they can read on their own! When we choose to read, we get to step into someone else’s world and learn that we are all connected.  There is no better way to build empathy and emotional intelligence.

  • We’re all spending extra time washing hands. Inspired by the Holderness family, see how many different songs you can turn into 20 second songs for handwashing.

  • Chores! Did you know that activities like chores are an integral part of your child’s development? Your kids may not whistle while they work, but studies show that children who do chores feel more connected to their families, and are more successful in their careers as adults.

  • Pick one other family to quarantine with and do some family play dates and/or toy swaps.

  • If you’re able to go outdoors, consider having a 1:1 ratio of time outdoors to time on screens.

  • Dig through the cabinets and bring out the board games – As Ellie Dix shares, “Board games bring people together and help parents to reclaim family time. Through games, parents can create an irresistible offline world that will restore balance, deepen relationships, develop transferable skills and create shared, long-lasting memories.”

  • Run races: crabwalk, walking backwards, etc. Maybe even create a family Olympics.

  • Write and send a good old fashioned letter – maybe to an elderly or high-risk friend or neighbor who may be shut in.

  • Learn to knit or some other “old school” craft.

  • Put together a huge puzzle!

  • Similar to a staring contest, see who can go the longest without touching their face.

  • Allow kids (or join them) to build the most epic fort ever using blankets and pillows. Cleaning it up will also take time. 😊

  • Make DIY hand sanitizer and then drop them on porches of neighbors or friends (if that’s safe in your area).

  • Practice fun new hairstyles (check Pinterest for ideas).

  • Consider house cleaning or improvement projects you’ve been wanting to do around the house. Kids can take part in the work and then each time you see that project, you can remember something positive your family achieved together during this time.

  • And overall, don’t be afraid to let them get bored–and let their brains get curious about the world, and the role they want to play in it. A New York Times article explains, “Of course, it’s not really the boredom itself that’s important; it’s what we do with it. When you reach your breaking point, boredom teaches you to respond constructively, to make something happen for yourself…This may come in several forms: You might turn inward and use the time to think. You might reach for a book. You might imagine your way to a better job. Boredom leads to flights of fancy. But ultimately, to self-discipline. To resourcefulness.”


  • Consider a podcast (e.g., Story Pirates or What if World) or audio book instead of a video. Hearing, but not seeing, the story opens up their imaginations to more fully imagine the characters and scenery.

  • Facetime other friends and families that are quarantined. Maybe plan a virtual joke competition or Pictionary via facetime. Do a facetime talent show!

  • Contact a friend who you haven’t been in touch with for a long time.

  • Ask your kids about what educational apps they use in school. Have them log in from a home device and give you a tour, so you can see what they’re learning and have a better sense of how tech is being used in their classroom.

    Watch and dance a GoNoodle together.

  • Learn about new creative apps like Book Creator and PuppetMaster. We frequently consider whether apps help our children (and us) create or consume. Ideally we’ll spend more time using technology to create something than to just consume.

  • Do a virtual tour of famous museums around the world.

  • Does your kiddo have a favorite video game or app that you’ve never used? Play it together for once. Make a Tik Tok video together.  

  • Find Zumba, yoga, or dance along videos on youtube for your kids or for a family exercise break.

  • Watch some of the handwashing parody videos such as the Holderness Family’s Taylor Swift “The Man” parody or the TikTok video from Vietnam officials that launched the handwashing TikTok challenge. Vote as a family for your favorite. Maybe even create your own!

This is an unprecedented time and it is sure to be filled with challenges. Even if you make the most perfect schedule and routine, by 8:20am on day 1 there might be a meltdown. We know this is hard and we hope that amidst this, we can find some time to make positive memories and build relationships in ways we otherwise never would have. May this be a teaching moment for us all in realizing the power of leaning in and investing in those who you love most. And please share other tips below so we can all share ideas with each other!