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How to limit screen time and keep kids focused during distance learning

Parents we spoke to say they use apps to help them manage their kids' screen time.

PORTLAND, Ore. — There’s lots of stress to go around, especially if you’re a parent trying to deal with distance learning.

Now more than ever, many parents are trying to find easy ways to manage their children’s screen time and keep them focused.

David Hardin is a dad with two daughters, one in 2nd grade and the other in high school. They are both distance learning and spending a lot of time on their computers and devices. Like many parents, Hardin is concerned about all that added screen time. He decided to use an app to help him keep tabs on his daughters’ internet use.

“I've used the [Xfinity] xFi app that we have. So it's a lot easier to kind of manage the way they use their internet throughout the day,” said Hardin.

“Amani, my 2nd grader, she gets an hour of internet a day outside of school. My freshman, she gets four hours of internet.”

That four hours includes school time. Hardin says the app is free to Comcast customers who lease a modem. He said it’s also got useful features including a parental control filter and an option to turn off internet to devices for periods of time.

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“What I can do at any point in the day, I can see if she's using her iPhone, which is social, or her Macbook, which is usually school. So it really helps me monitor how they're using the internet, which is cool,” Hardin said.

His goal, to manage his daughters’ internet use while also trying to make sure they stay on task and don't get too distracted.

Credit: David Hardin
David Hardin and his daughter, Amani

“I also am a parent of a 14-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter who are at home at this time doing their distance learning as well. So I am right here in the middle of it,” said Sue Thotz, senior program manager for Common Sense Education.

Common Sense is a national nonprofit that helps parents, teachers and kids with media and technology use.

Thotz said to keep her children focused, she establishes a routine. She set up a dedicated space for them to do their schoolwork, and encourages them to take breaks and spend time outside. She also sets limits.

“My kids, especially my 14-year-old, he is not allowed to use his phone which is where all his apps are and all his communication is without my permission. This seems kind of draconian but you know certainly from 10 p.m. at night, so I establish it from 9-10 p.m. at night until school is over the next day,” said Thotz.

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Like Hardin, she uses an app to track her kids' screen time and which apps they use most.

“I certainly use the screen time app that is available on your iOs devices, which is the same thing as the wellbeing app on Android,” Thotz said.

Both Thotz and Hardin are parents who are busy juggling their own jobs with distance learning, and using technology to help them.

“You've got to take advantage of that stuff to kind of organize the chaos,” said Hardin.

While both parents want to limit the amount of screen time their kids are getting, Thotz said it’s not all bad when it comes to social media. She said in recent Common Sense research, teens have reported social media having a positive effect on their lives.

Because they may feel isolated these days, social media helps them strengthen and maintain relationships.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance.

Thotz said there are free resources for parents teachers available on the Common Sense website, including general tips for parents on how to deal with distance learning as well as ways to keep kids motivated for online learning.

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