5 Ways To Help Parents Manage Screen Time During Quarantine

Being stuck in quarantine has resulted in a huge spike in video games, movies, and video watching for all of us.  

Trying to limit screen time is especially hard now when parents are facing so much stress.  But the negative effects of too much screen time hasn’t changed.

  • insomnia
  • obesity
  • aggression
  • mood swings
  • decreased socialization
  • vision problems

Therapists and educators can provide the education and support needed to make healthy choices. Merely asking parents to set limits on screen time may not be enough.  Let’s get those kiddos off the screens!

What’s Too Much? 

Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)’s specific recommendations (pulled straight from www.aap.org). “Screen use” refers to any content viewed on TV, video games, devices (tablets and smartphones), and computers. 

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. 
  • Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health

 KEY TAKEAWAY: No children under the age of 6 should be viewing a lot of digital content alone. This is hard because so many parents use digital devices when they need to keep their children busy so they can work, cook dinner, etc.

5 ways to help parents reduce the harm of screen time

1. Make Recommendations for High-Quality Apps/Programs 

  • Not all apps labeled “educational” are created equal.
  • The AAP specifically mentions Sesame Workshop and PBS kids as examples of “high quality” apps.
  • Commonsensemedia.org is a great resource for searching apps, TV shows, and games by age range. They review Youtube channels to help parents decide whether the content is age-appropriate.
  • Khan Kids is a great one! It’s free and provides a HUGE number of different activities. It’s very language-rich and teaches lots of different skills.

2. When using apps, make movement a priority

Young children need to move as much as possible.  There are many apps that encourage fine and gross motor skill development. If they have to be on a screen, let’s get them moving.

  • Dexteria Jr. ($3.99 in the app store) is fun for practicing fine motor and pre-writing skills. This is one of the very few apps that has a pincer grasp activity.
  • There are great letter practice apps available but make sure that children have developed basic prewriting skills. Check out this post for the best handwriting apps. Have children use a stylus to promote fine motor skills for writing. 
  • Some apps help encourage gross motor activity and exploration of the environment too. Seedling Scavenger Bingo is free and allows you to do pre-made scavenger hunts or create your own!  Youtube also has great kids yoga apps and dance videos. 

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3. Recommend Tools to Set Screen Time Limits and Manage App use

  • Apple products come with built-in features for managing screen time.  Guided Access  (found in the accessibility settings) allows parents to set time limits, block off controls or parts of a screen (ex. Volume button), and set the device so that the child can’t leave the app they are in. On Android devices, this is called “Screen Pinning”. See how to do it here
  •  Turn down the screen brightness to reduce over-stimulation which can lead to meltdowns.
  • Decrease the blue light to help your child sleep better. 

4. Find Out WHEN Devices Are Being Used 

  • Screen time tends to increase when parents are busy. They need an entertained child so they can cook dinner, clean, or just use the bathroom in peace. Parents often use a device to keep children calm during unpreferred activities (ex. children with feeding difficulties that watch a preferred video during mealtimes).
  • Devices are also frequently used during transitions, car rides, the grocery store, waiting for appointments, etc.
  • Once you know when screens are coming out, you can problem solve and prioritize. Try to find alternatives to keep them busy. Keep small pocketbook toys on hand instead.

5. Help Parents Problem Solve

All children are different.  To help families problem-solve alternatives to screens use, consider this:

  • What are their favorite activities on the device? If a child is looking for visual stimulation maybe they can get that from a sensory bottle, sensory bag or i-spy. Children that always want to watch certain characters might be equally entertained by books or toys from the show. Kids that like racing games might be equally entertained by a remote control car, hot wheels, etc.
  • Are screens used to help the child calm down? If so, try to find some other easy “unwinding” activities their child likes (ex. sensory bins, listening to music)
  • Help establish routines that incorporate movement. Play outside, do age-appropriate chores, help prepare a snack, help clean up, etc.
  • Help parents identify calming activities to do before getting ready for bed (ex. Crashing on piles of pillows, making a “burrito” with a blanket, rocking in a rocking chair, etc.) so that children are not going into the nighttime routine overstimulated
  • Use tools like visual schedules and timers to help children understand when different activities take place, how long they last, and what’s coming up next. This can help reduce arguments.

Start The Conversation

Despite all of its wonderful capabilities, technology has the ability to cause some problems for small, growing minds.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Talk about the potential harm of too much screen time. Make sure to report the benefits of play, movement, social interaction, and routine to the developing brain.

Ask questions and let parents know that even small changes are good. Model limited use of screens in your classrooms and therapy practice. 


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As I walked into school the other day, a friend of mine grabbed me in a panic and said “Should my four-year-old really be practicing a page of letters every night?! This is the only time I get to spend with her and I’m forcing her to write a whole page of D’s! This stinks!”

No, as an OT, I don’t believe that a four-year-old should be practicing a page of letters for twenty minutes a night.  It’s too much for those little hands.

But – an educator who spends two days a week in kindergarten, I have to say, this is where the curriculum is going. Developmentally, preschoolers are still preschoolers, but kindergarten curriculum expectations have increased tremendously.  Little kids are expected to be able to write upon entering kindergarten.  Preschools are bowing to the pressure and teaching what used to be the kindergarten curriculum.

I felt empathetic towards my friend who just wants to play with her little girl at night, rather than drilling her to finish a worksheet.  But here’s what I told her.

Think about it differently.  You have the chance to make sure she learns all her letters correctly before she starts Kindergarten.  There will be other children in her class who don’t know their letters, and the teacher won’t be able to really sit with them one on one to make sure they get it.  Many teachers teach one letter a day in two forms (capital and uppercase), so the kids don’t really develop the motor memory.  It’s difficult for kids to learn it and to write comfortably at this rushed pace.   If a child learns their letters correctly it is so much easier for them to write neatly.  It becomes automatic.”


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Is my child ready to learn how to keyboard?

Keyboarding skills are often considered just important (or more) than handwriting.  But when are children developmentally ready?

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Developmental Progression of Keyboarding Skills

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and spotted an entire family on their phone or tablet? Technology is everywhere, and there is no getting away from it. I’m sure you’ve read those articles about the importance of limiting technology and screen time, but what about the importance of teaching technology in a developmentally appropriate way?

When are kids ready to learn how to type? 

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Students who struggle with getting their thoughts on paper and HATE writing  will LOVE this game-changing app called SnapType Pro.

With two weeks left of school, the middle school was HOT and sticky.  The smell of sweaty teenagers who just didn’t want to be in school permeated through the hallways.  As I sat across from the teenager who “HATES writing”, I could see his face growing red.

The tears were building up.

And he still had one more essay to finish.

Having to concentrate on a final exam is just torture for anyone, but it’s even worse for a child with a disability.   

Thank goodness I found a way to help this poor child. 


Does this sound familiar? 

If you know someone who is dysgraphic, you’re familiar with the symptoms.

  • Messy handwriting
  • Difficulty putting thoughts down on paper
  • Physically slow when writing
  • Difficulty with spelling
  • Organizing words and sentences is a challenge

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How To Bring Your OT App Invention To Life

*This post contains affiliate links


Amberlynn Slavin, a college student in an Occupational Therapy program, came up with this amazing idea and then brought it to fruition.   I find myself brimming with ideas, but I’ve still never invented anything!  Amberlynn was kind enough to answer a few questions about the process of inventing and developing an app.

Here are the questions that I had for Amberlynn….

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Bluebee Pals – for children who love to learn, play, and interact!


What should a parent do when their child isn’t interested in reading?

What if they aren’t prepared for kindergarten?

Will they ever learn their letters?

I just found the perfect solution to the disinterested child. A Bluebee Pal.

As an OT and a newly certified Assistive Technology provider, I am always looking for fun ways to incorporate interactive technology into to my sessions.  I often recommend educational apps and games to parents to help with follow through at home. Let’s face it: Kids love technology.    It’s important for them to still manipulate and play with toys, games, and puzzles, but a tablet or cell phone can be used in any location to work on almost any goal.

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I am totally on the “LIMIT TECHNOLOGY” for little kids bandwagon and am all about “Pocketbook-Sized Toys”! I have been so inspired by some articles I’ve read lately; especially a great article by Your Therapy Source (link at the bottom).  So I decided to make a list of 10 pocketbook-sized toys to occupy your kid (instead of your phone!)

As a public school OT, I work with Kindergarten students two days a week.  The continued decline in the basic motor skills of four and five-year-old children is VERY evident.  There are probably many reasons why, but I feel that lack of functional playtime is a BIG contributor.    Nowadays, many kids have their own tablets, TV’s in their rooms, and an iPod shuffle. They spend less and less time playing outside, which limits their gross motor skills, endurance, and coordination.   When they are inside, they spend less time playing with toys and using their hands and more time with technology.

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