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Screen Time in a World of Virtual Learning


NOTE:  The following information was published October 26, 2020. For current COVID-19 information, visit

As a parent, you’ve heard the advice – limit your children’s screen time. Now that virtual learning has become the norm, limiting screen time feels impossible.

Do screen time limitations apply to virtual learning?

Today screens aren’t just on TVs – kids have mobile devices, computers and gaming consoles. The content varies even more widely. “Some digital media is pro-development and learning, some is neutral, and some is harmful,” says J. Nathan Hagstrom, MD, Chief of Pediatrics at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. “Passive media is worse than interactive media as long as the interactive is age appropriate.”

In other words, when your child is interacting on a video call it can promote social interactions and learning. Conversely, digital media that distracts from social interactions (like background TV or parents’ media over-use) can impair learning. When it comes to screen time, it’s no longer one size fits all. Look for digital media that promotes creativity and community building.

Will virtual learning have an impact on my child’s health?

“Value-added media stimulates learning, problem-solving, creativity, language and more,” Hagstrom says.Too much non-value-added media takes away from other activities, especially physical activity, interacting with others and sleep.”

Social science research suggests that digital gaming can improve mood, reduce stress and promote pro-social skills when games re­ward cooperation, support and helping behaviors. Virtual learning can have a positive impact on your child, but it’s important to set aside time for physical activity, face-to-face interaction and free play.

Will virtual learning affect my child’s sleep?

Digital media can impact sleep. It is important to put away electronics as least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. The light from screens disrupts melatonin secretion, which can impact your child’s ability to fall asleep and achieve a deep restful sleep. It’s important to note that sleep deprivation is strongly associated with obesity and poor academic performance.

When it comes to screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics gives these recommendations:

  • Set an example – Model the behaviors you wish to see in your children. Set clear boundaries for media use and follow them as a family. Be intentional about connecting with your children offline.

  • Avoid displacement – Screen time should be used as a reward or a tool not a babysitter. Make sure you have time for conversation, play and creativity.

  • Talk about digital etiquette – It’s important for kids to learn that online interactions follow the same social guidelines as when they are interacting face-to-face. Have conversations about appropriate content, etiquette, empathy and safety to provide a foundation for digital media use.

  • Use digital media together – Let your children show you what they are doing online to help them feel empowered or read your child a digital story book to create moments together.

  • Create media-free zones – Meal times, bedtime and specific days or hours can be designated as “media-free.” Remember to turn off TVs that are on in the background. A background TV dramatically reduces conversation or “talk time” with children.

  • Use the learning moments – As we navigate remote learning, both kids and parents will make mistakes. Recognize these teachable moments to as opportunities for learning and growth.

For more tips and health information regarding your child, parenting and the COVID-19 pandemic, visit

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