Setting Tech Boundaries for Kids During COVID-19

August 10, 2020 • Shannon Flynn


It’s not summer vacation quite yet, but thanks to COVID-19, kids are home, and parents are scrambling to find ways to keep them entertained and educated while trying to work. Thanks to the viral pandemic, it’s the new normal we have to face, and we’re all trying to find ways to cope. 

For families that may have strictly limited screen time before this crisis, that often means finding ways to keep their little ones from popping their heads into Zoom meetings and interrupting work hours — without sitting them in front of a TV or tablet. With parents and kids home 24/7 until this crisis is over, setting tech boundaries is necessary. Here are some tips to help you start. 

Don’t: Count Online Schooling as Screen Time

Schools across the country have closed. In fact, as of the time of this writing, 33 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have closed down their public education institutions and transitioned to distance learning. Students from elementary to high school — around 32.5 million of them — are meeting with their teachers and completing schoolwork online. That doesn’t include those already done for the semester due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

If you’re trying to set tech boundaries for your kids, don’t include their online schooling time, as it’s mandatory, just like attending school. If they’re working on classwork for eight hours a day, demanding that they put down the tablet or shut down the computer as soon as classes finish is likely to cause conflict. Instead, offer a compromise, such as completing homework tasks before streaming a movie or playing a game.

According to experts, it’s okay to be flexible because of our old outdated concepts of screen time. The guidelines that many parents use were based on television rather than on modern media platforms. It’s a good idea to find a balance between screen time and other activities, but don’t feel like you need to restrict tablet or computer use simply because it has a screen.  

Do: Spend More Time With Your Kid

This step might seem challenging if they’re working on schoolwork and you’re working from home, but make it a point to spend more time with your kids. Go for a walk as a family, play a board game or watch a movie on Netflix or Disney+ together. This time is difficult for all of us. Author and licensed social worker Craig Knippenberg likened it to going through the five stages of grief.  

The goal here shouldn’t be to keep things at the status quo but to find a new normal, something that you can hold on to while we ride this out. Knippenberg recommends choosing activities that keep the spirit of fun and adventure alive, such as roasting marshmallows over a fire in your backyard. 

Don’t: Cut Them Off of Tech Entirely 

You’re probably already feeling the loneliness of being unable to hang out with friends or socialize. Your children are, too. Kids are inherently social creatures, so the longer we’re social distancing, the more significant the potential impact on their social development. 

Don’t cut them off from friends and family that they’re communicating with through social media, Discord, Zoom or other platforms. Experts are fairly confident that kids will bounce back, as long as it only takes a few months for things to return to normal. Still, having some connection with people outside of your household, even if it’s just digital, can take the edge off. 

Do: Have Conversations About Tech Boundaries

Even if you’re doing your best to keep your kids out of the loop, they know something big is going on. Don’t shut them out. Have age-appropriate conversations with each of your children about what is going on with the virus. Child psychologists recommend that you should wait until your kids come to you with questions to make them feel in control. 

If you have older kids who are online or on social media, check-in with them once a day to ensure the deluge of information available do not overwhelm them. Talk about what the disease is, explain how it spreads and discuss what measures people are taking to stay safe. Be sure to get your information from reputable sources, too.

Talk to Your Kids About Tech Boundaries 

We’re all stuck at home trying to find ways to keep ourselves and our little ones entertained. Just remember that, no matter what, we will get through this. It might take a few months for everything to go back to normal, but it will pass. Just take things one day at a time, and don’t stress too much if your kids have an extra hour or two in front of their screens.