Updated: 2022, Mar 21

How to Limit Your Family’s Tech Use During a Pandemic

Do screen time rules still apply in lockdown? Check out the helpful advice for avoiding problematic technology use during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered countless brick-and-mortar businesses, forced companies to institute work-from-home policies, and left millions of children struggling to keep up with their education from home.

How to Limit Your Family’s Tech Use During a Pandemic
The pandemic is changing parent's mind about mobile phones.

When you add quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, and social distancing into the mix, it leaves young and old alike stranded on the homefront with few options available to them outside of endlessly utilizing their technology.

Why It’s Important to Limit Your Family’s Tech Use During a Pandemic

Whether it’s attending class, running a meeting, or vegging out at the end of the day, it should come as no surprise that people are using their digital devices more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this excessive use of tech may be understandable, it doesn’t change the fact that overusing tech can lead to a large variety of unpleasant side effects, including:

A disproportionate amount of screentime, whether justified or not, has the distinct potential to wreak havoc on your household. That’s why it’s essential that parents step up and do what they can to mitigate the undesirable repercussions that come with too much tech time. This can be done by reducing and limiting tech use whenever possible. Here are a few suggestions for ways to do so.

Choose Your Tech Wisely

Just because their friends have phones doesn’t mean your child has to have one, as well. Netflix may have an auto-play function, but that doesn’t mean it has to be turned on. A great Black Friday deal does not necessitate the need for a fifth iPad in the house.

If you seriously want to limit your family’s tech usage, start by considering what tech you’re allowing into your home in the first place.

If your child wants their own phone, considering getting them a kids phone that naturally avoids things like internet browsing and social media. If you’re going to get a new laptop, confirm that it will serve a valuable function in your home before you plug in your credit card information. If you decide you want a fitness tracker, consider getting one that doesn’t double as a smartwatch.

Every scenario is different. The important thing is that you choose each and every piece of tech wisely and with a purpose.

Schedule Unplugging Times

Unplugging is an activity that is growing in popularity as 21st-century consumers grapple with the problem of excessive screentime. The concept simply consists of turning off tech devices and often putting them completely out of sight in order to focus on being in the present.

Unplugging doesn’t have to only apply to adults, either. The practice can be integrated into your family’s regular activities as well. For instance, you can institute an unplugging rule an hour or two before bed or immediately after work and school. By scheduling times for your loved ones to deliberately put down their tech, you provide them with opportunities to detox from its negative side effects.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Create Dedicated Screen-Free Zones

You can also reduce your family’s screentime by creating screen-free zones throughout the homefront.

An obvious candidate for this designation is the dinner table. Maintaining family-focused habits like preparing and eating meals together is already a highly beneficial activity. Doing so without a screen in sight can improve the bonding experience.

In the same sense, making bedrooms a screen-free zone can help both you and your children associate these areas with sleep rather than technology. This is important, as subconsciously identifying your bedroom with sleep can help to improve your quality of sleep.

Set Up Reward Systems

If you find that your family’s addiction to their tech is severe, you can begin to chip away at their screentime simply by making them earn it first. Setting up reward systems can be a helpful way to reduce the amount of time your family spends in front of a screen. You can create a one-for-one system that requires an hour of reading or offline playtime in exchange for an equal amount of time spent on their devices. In the same vein, chores and household responsibilities can be required activities if they want to turn on the television.

Obviously, things like online school shouldn’t be included in this tally. However, setting up a moderate barrier in the form of a reward system can ensure that your children won’t flip on the Playstation or glue themselves to their cell phones the second their remote school is finished each day.

Encourage Outdoor Play

If you’re going to limit your family’s tech use, it’s important that you also provide activities to fill in the void. One of the best of these options is to ramp up your family’s time spent in the great outdoors. This can include any number of different activities, like:

  • Going for a walk, jog, or run together.
  • Playing a game.
  • Drawing with sidewalk chalk.
  • Doing yard work.
  • Creating a garden.
  • Visiting a local natural hotspot.

Whatever you specifically choose to do, the benefits will generally be the same. Time spent outside can help with your mental health, improve the quality of your sleep, and enhance your creativity. The exercise that comes with so many outdoor activities can also help reduce stress and Vitamin D from the sun can boost your immunity. Whatever way you slice it, spending time outdoors isn’t just a time filler, it’s a straightforward and proactive way to counteract the negative side effects of too much tech use.

From playing outdoors to unplugging, creating screen-free zones to choosing your tech wisely, there are many options available for parents to limit their family’s tech use. The important thing to keep in mind is to strive to maintain a positive spin on things as you go about decreasing screentime in your home. Provide explanations and information as you encourage your children (and even your spouse) to put down their screens and focus on the present.

If you can make it a group effort, limiting your family’s tech use doesn’t have to be a chore. On the contrary, it can become a symbol of your family’s teamwork and your concerted commitment to your collective health and wellbeing.

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Sam Kramer is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, Six Sigma Green Belt Certified, and Certified Sports Nutritionis

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