Setting Screen-Time Limits in Self Isolation

National Screen-Free Week is a special time for Disciple Mama each spring, because here we’re passionate about the benefits of eliminating as much screen-time as possible for our kids. In the best of times, screen-free parenting, and even setting firm screen-time limits can be a daunting task. During a time of pandemic and self-isolation, stay home orders, and extreme social distancing; setting screen time limits is even harder.

In fact, setting these screen-time limits is so difficult right now that Screen-Free Week for 2020, which was supposed to be May 4-10, has officially been postponed. You can read more about it at

Around the world right now, millions of students are home from school indefinitely, playgrounds and libraries are closed, and many more exciting, screen-free activities are off limits to families.

Almost all of those school kids, if they have access to the internet, are expected to spend at least a portion of each school day on screens. Many parents are working from home and need to keep their kids occupied with limited interaction. Screen-time has become indispensable to a great extent in many households, regardless of what The Time Before COVID was like.

You guys, even though I stay home full-time with my kids, this crazy virus has given screen-time a much bigger foothold into my family’s life than I ever would have imagined. Church? On a screen. Playdate? On a screen. Mommy and Me meeting? On a screen. Story time? On a screen.

So, let’s talk about some things we can do to get through this with our sanity, our kids’ brains, and our screen-time limit-loving integrity intact!

Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Here’s a link to my (very boring) disclosure.

Grace is more important than being screen-free.

Mama, give yourself some grace. Screens are in our lives, and we love to love them and we love to hate them, but a screen is NOT our friend OR our enemy. A screen is a tool.

Right now, #grace is more important than being screen-free.

Screens aren’t inherently bad.

A screen is a tool, a communication medium, and a window to anything and everything outside of our homes.

My social and spiritual family core values outrank my value of keeping my kids screen-free. Yes, I’d rather eliminate all the screen time they’re getting right now, but is it worth keeping them away from church and Sabbath school? Definitely not.

Is it worth cutting out opportunities for story time? Not to me.

Is cutting out screen time more important than interactions with their friends and extended family? No way!

So, I remain in control of screen-time–there’s no need for my kids to spend hours per day on screens–but I use it as a tool to maintain social, spiritual, and mental health during this unusual period in earth’s history.

I make sure that when my kids are looking out that screen “window” that I know what they’re going to see, and I try to make it a positive and wholesome experience that adds to and supports our values, rather than just being entertainment or distraction.

We control the screens–screens don’t control us.

Setting Screen Time Limits in Self-Isolation | Disciple MamaScreen-time IS entertaining, and it IS distraction from all of the loss of our (actual) face time with friends and family, trips to the zoo, camping trips to other parts of the state, and the other things we were hoping to do this spring/summer. My kids are LOVING the new screen-time that they’re getting, and at first I felt guilty about that, but then I remembered that I WANT them to enjoy it, because what I’m giving them is wholesome, age-appropriate, and it makes sense for what we’re going through right now. That’s nothing to feel bad about, and it doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning my value of placing real-life, face-to-face interactions over screen-time.

There’s no doubt that screen-time can be addicting for anyone, and kids even more susceptible than adults (and we’re far from immune). But even when your family’s screen-time increases out of necessity, you can still set limits and maintain control–it’ll just look different than it did before.

If your school-age kids are in Zoom meetings or spending hours in Google Classrooms each day, that’s pretty much unavoidable. Instead of worrying about something like that, that’s largely out of your control, I recommend focusing on what you CAN change. So maybe make sure that EVERYONE (even adults) sets aside all the screens for an hour or two after school and/or work hours, and really focus on quality face-to-face interactions for that time. Cook and clean together. Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Play a board game. Jam on your instruments. Break out the coloring books (grown-ups can color, too–it’s relaxing). Just talk to each other.

It really doesn’t matter what you do, and don’t get hung up on a certain amount of time. Quality is more important than quantity (both for screen-time and family time), and making an investment in any amount of intentional face-to-face interaction will pay off.

Take control of devices by using them to support your values, turning them off, or putting them aside for a portion of each day. Help your kids learn by experience that you can find fun and interesting things to do without them. You control the screen so that it doesn’t control you.

This is temporary.

Kids will eventually go back to school. Parents will eventually go back to work. Churches, libraries, museums, splash pads, and playgrounds will eventually reopen.

You can go back to less (or no) screen-time when these things get back a little bit closer to normal.

I’ll admit, it’s much easier to add screen-time into our lives than it is to take it away, but when we’re back to filling our schedules with activities and duties that require leaving the house, and when we’re able to see and hug and play with our friends and loved ones again, we will have plenty of reasons to lay the screens aside and revel in the beauty of togetherness.

It may be tough, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Please don’t get bogged down in mom guilt over this one. It’s a tough time, and we can adapt without throwing our high standards totally out the window. Adjust, and remember that, in time, you’ll be able to shift back to more “normal” screen time schedules.

You’ve got this, Mama.

Positive Screen Time Ideas

If, like many of us right now, you find that increased screen-time is a necessity for keeping the kiddos busy while you accomplish other things, here are my best ideas for screen time activities that are slow-paced and educational.

Live story time

Find a great story time (people are doing these on Facebook Live all the time lately!) and let the kids watch and listen.

Video story time

My mom has been recording herself reading books on video every once in awhile lately. The boys sit down to watch Grammie and listen to the story, and they love it! If you don’t have someone who wants to record books on video for you, try making a video or two yourself and let your kids watch them when you need to be busy doing something else.

Your Story Hour’s YouTube channel, Your Story Hour Official, also has a series of videos of the radio hosts reading the book Loony Coon, by Sam Campbell one chapter at a time. Yes, it’s on YouTube, so it’s technically a video…but your kids don’t have to watch it. Just pop the video up on your phone and play it through a bluetooth speaker so they can hear it while they’re coloring or building a tower. It’s a great, true story about a funny little raccoon, and my kids love it!

Right Now Media

Right Now Media is a library of Christian media resources for children and adults. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, Right Now Media is offering limited access to their library of amazing resources for free! Since my kids don’t really get much screen time, I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with their offerings for kids, but my kids watch the Little Bible Heroes series while we were traveling overseas and needed some calm and quiet moments on planes and trains. It’s very simple and slow moving, so I felt it was safe for my small children and their . Check out the free offerings on Right Now Media (you will have to give them some personal information to create a free account). And, of course, I always recommend previewing anything you show your kids, especially if you won’t be watching it with them.

Make your own videos

Have the kids make their own videos, and they’ll be thinking creatively, solving problems, and probably have a lot of fun! Best of all, they won’t just be passively watching.

If your kids are a little bit older (5 or older, depending on interest and ability), you could show them how to do stop-motion videos with their LEGO or other cool toys, and then leave them to it. Check out this video from What’s Up Moms for a quick overview of simple stop motion (this one is more for moms than for the kids to watch themselves):

Still worried about too much screen-time?

Here are some ideas that will keep kids occupied and engaged sans screens, while you work, take a shower, or just take a moment to yourself.

Screen-Free Resources for Quarantine

1. Your Story Hour

During this time, Your Story Hour is streaming one true historical story for free EVERY DAY. My 4.5 year old LOVES these stories and is learning a lot. They’re told from a Christian perspective, and the content and language is very appropriate. I know some 3 year olds that really enjoy Your Story Hour, and it works for much older children, too. My toddler isn’t super into the stories yet, so he plays with LEGO while my eldest listens. Each story is about 30 minutes long.

2. Audio books

If your child loves books, audio books might be a huge win for you. If you have a library card, try searching for audio books to borrow online. My library is connected to a network of libraries who offer audio books on Overdrive and Libby. Libraries are awesome! Borrow for 14 days, listen, and return them when you’re done (or just let them sit and Overdrive will return them for you on the right day).

3. Scavenger huntScreen Free Scavenger Hunt Activity

Scavenger hunts are really engaging activities for most curious little ones, and they can be done inside the house or out in the yard (or both). Last week I spent about 10 minutes drawing out a grid on our patio and my kids were occupied for 2 hours (TWO HOURS!!!) doing an alphabet scavenger hunt. E knows all his letters and sounds, so he knew what he was looking for (mostly…I helped with Q, X, Y, and K), and A was perfectly happy to keep piling sticks, rocks, leaves, and flowers in the grid.

Don’t want to make your own? I love this Nature Scavenger Hunt printable from The Resourceful Mama. It’s great for pre-readers because there are pictures!

And here’s a great Indoor Scavenger Hunt for kids who are a little bit older (they’ll have to count and write numbers), from KC EDventures.

4. Games

Games are a great way for kids to learn and to have fun, but most often young children can’t play games very well without adult help. But, some games are great for kids to play with their siblings OR even alone!

My 2.5 year old was given a cooperative game called Acorn Soup for Christmas, and both he and his older brother think it’s so much fun! Once we played with them the first time, they had no problem playing it on their own, because it doesn’t require any reading skills or much strategy (and there’s no winner or loser, either). There are cards with soup “recipes” on them, and cute little “ingredients” to choose from. You find the ingredients in the recipe (shape & color recognition), put in the right number of each (basic counting–it only goes up to 3), and stir the “soup” with the adorable little wooden spoon. My youngest can play alone happily, and when my kids play together they get to practice taking turns. It’s a win for everyone!

Hungry, Hungry Hippos is another game that can work pretty easily for small children, too.

If your kids are a bit older (4+ to play without you, 3+ to play WITH you) and able to understand basic games on their own, check out Hoot Owl Hoot and The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game! Oh, and Connect Four is always a winner (but only two people can play, so keep that in mind)!

Any matching games are great for children who are old enough to mix up the cards, lay them out in a grid, and able to take turns (but they can work for a child alone, too). We like to use our alphabet flashcards for this (matching the upper and lowercase letters), as well as other matching games we’ve collected over the years.

Go Find It is a fun one for kids of all ages, my 2.5 year old has no trouble with this one and my 4.5 year old loves it, too. It’s a game for helping kids get outside to explore, and can be played a number of different ways. You may have to hand cards out (depending on how you play, but you should be able to get stuff done while your kids run around looking for something that fits the card!

4. More screen-free ideas…

For more ideas for screen-free activities check out:

Setting Screen Time Limits in Self-Isolation

Setting screen time limits during self-isolation is harder, and your limits may look different than they normally do, but it’s okay, mama!

For everything there is a season, and this season may be one that you need to give yourself a little bit more grace and give the kids a little bit more screen time. Do what helps support your values and your mental health right now!

Discipleship parenting means being intentional about leading our kids always to Jesus, and if we don’t lose sight of that, we’re on the right track–screen time or no.

Check out these articles:

Screen Free Week: A Beginner’s Guide to Unplugging the Kids

Core Values: Building Family Identity

Screen Free Parenting: Unplug to Tune In

Discipleship Parenting: Getting Started with the Basics