Creating a Coronavirus Screen Time Management Plan for Your Family

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

With schools closed and social distancing in full effect, the usual screen time limits have gone out the window for most families. We are all using electronics to connect with work, school, relatives, and friends, and as our primary source of entertainment and information. It’s not surprising that screen use has increased dramatically for everyone. 

But just because you and your kids are using screens more often doesn’t mean that your family should not have any screen time rules or limits right now. Instead, it’s time to revise your old rules and establish new limits that meet your family’s current needs. 

Even during this unique and stressful time, it is important for kids to have clear screen time rules and boundaries. Studies have shown that excessive screen use is associated with sleep problems, over-eating, lack of physical activity, and (for some children, especially those with ADHD) problems with mood, anxiety, and behavioral outbursts. 

On top of this, unmonitored internet use increases your child’s risk of exposure to content that isn’t age-appropriate. When life returns to normal and you need to set limits again, the amount of resistance you get from your child could be extreme if they have adapted to the lack of screen limits at home. 

Creating a plan for managing screen time can be done in five steps: 

  1. Decide how much recreational screen time your child will be allowed each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours of screen time per day for children over the age of 2. Since most kids are currently relying on technology for learning and socializing, focus on limiting recreational screen time – screen time that is not being used for academics or for face-to-face chats with friends (via apps like FaceTime or Zoom). I recommend allowing up to one hour of recreational screen time each day.
  2. Set expectations for how your child should behave when it’s time to turn off their screens. Many kids begin arguing, negotiating, and melting down as soon they are told their screen time is over. Tell your child exactly how you expect them to react when you tell them it’s time for them to turn off their screens. For example, you expect them to turn off their screen calmly after you remind them no more than two times. You can reward them for meeting this expectation by giving them 10 minutes of extra recreational screen time the next day.
  3. List the apps, videos, and video games your child is allowed to watch. You can simply say that only ‘parent-approved’ games, apps, and videos are allowed, or you can create a specific list. Also plan to monitor your child’s screen activity so you know exactly what they are doing when they are online.
  4. Designate screen-free times for your family. Identify times when screens are off limits for the entire family, like meal time, family game time, and one hour before bed. This will reduce conflict, improve family relationships, and improve your child’s sleep.
  5. Post your plan. Type or write up your plan and post it in a location where it can be seen by everyone in the family. Remind your family of the rules every day until they become a habit.
  6. Screen use has increased for everyone. Having a strong screen time management plan for your family will help you set healthy boundaries and feel better about the time your child is spending online.


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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