I once had a low-tech family. At one point, I had successfully been able to limit screen time to weekends and to avoid devices except for trips. Those days feel like another lifetime.

Now, Minecraft, Talking Tom and Game Pigeon are fixtures in my household. It is likely yours has a similar, larger digital presence within it, as well.

With a new school year just weeks away, this is a good time to reconsider your screen time policy. As you adjust to new routines, including earlier bedtimes and structured homework periods, you can also scale back screen time. Sticking to routines can help your kid from turning back into a “screen zombie.”

Digital devices are a valid “survival” tool and way of life for kids now

COVID-19 quarantining has transformed every part of life, including digital entertainment access and limits in American households. Devices substitute as much needed babysitters and educational tools. Before the pandemic, device use was on the rise. A 2019 study showed:

US teens spend an average of more than seven hours per day on screen media for entertainment, and tweens spend nearly five hours, a new report finds

Common Sense Media and USA Today

It is easy to assume that figure has increased significantly in the wake of COVID-19 quarantining.

Though we cannot avoid technology and our increased reliance on it for school, social connection and productivity, there are reasons to reexamine boundaries for both younger and older children.

Heading into a new school year provides a fresh opportunity to reevaluate your family’s approach to technology and the resources in place to ensure their safety, as well.

I recently spoke with Common Sense Media’s New York Director, Samira Nanda Sine, about strategies for managing digital well-being in the age of COVID-19.

Get over the guilt

First, Nanda Sine suggests relaxing about the issue altogether. “You can’t cut technology out of a child’s life…but you can use it wisely,” she says. Getting comfortable with it in your house, for now, is the first task for parents.

Parents should use widely available tech tools to ensure safe choices

In our interview, she also suggests that parents stay proactive to ensure the content consumed by their kids are safe as a top priority, rather than solely focusing on screen time. Some suggestions include:

  • Ensuring devices have PG controls and screen time limits enabled
  • Using a device like Circle to monitor content and filter the Internet
  • Visiting Common Sense Media’s ratings and reviews before downloading new content for your child
  • Creating a family agreement around technology and having frequent conversations about digital choices
  • Teaching your child online etiquette. Proactively discuss cyberbullying and other “digital drama” using teaching tools
  • Gaming with your children, so you can understand what they are consuming
  • Balancing screen time with outdoor and family time, as much as possible

Wondering if Tik Tok is ok for your 10-year-old or Roblox safe for your 6-year-old? Samira says reviews on Common Sense Media can tell you. Here’s how:

As COVID-restrictions continue, so do concerns about social isolation for kids and teens. Increased exposure to screens can create addictions to devices and negatively impact mental health, according to a New York Times report. This is another reason to consider scaling back as school starts. Nanda Sine says there are hallmark signs of tech addiction, including:

  • Not completing homework regularly
  • Social isolation, not leaving the bedroom or home
  • Lack of face-to-face time and socialization

She suggests gaming with friends as a way for older kids to socialize and connect with friends. Turning gaming lessons into writing assignments or having your child explain the day’s game developments at the dinner table are ways to engage your child in conversation and learning. Using goals, like the completion of homework or additional chores, can motivate kids to earn screen time.

Overall, Nanda Sine says to “relax a little bit” because we are all at home, engaging in similar choices. With content filters and device settings in place, parents can feel more assured of safety. Do the research to ensure your child is engaging with credible media and appropriate sites, as an added measure.

Her advice overall is to play and participate with your child in online and in personally engaging activities when you can. “These are times we won’t get back,” she reminds us.