Balancing Screen Time With Online Learning

School has changed. Even if you graduated from school in the last ten years, the school that your children attend is probably quite different than what you experienced.  Children are required to use virtual learning, and parents are trying to adjust to the new “norm” as best as they can. The shift from traditional to online learning is here to stay, but there is one concern: screen time.

Kids spend 4 to 6 hours a day staring at a screen before they reach their teenage years. This figure rises for teens that spend as much as nine hours a day looking at a screen.

Managing screen time is growing in importance, especially for students who are homeschooling.

What are the Effects of Excessive Screen Time?

It’s easy for kids to stare at their screens for hours, but when it’s for school purposes, the time should take a precedence over screen time related to a smartphone, tablet, or video games. The problem is excessive screen time which can lead to:

  • Eye strain,
  • Eye discomfort,
  • Blurred vision,
  • Retina damage,
  • Headaches, and
  • Trouble sleeping.

As a parent, it’s important to keep track of your child’s screen time habits. You can promote healthy screen time habits to help alleviate these symptoms that often lead kids to miss their classes.

Is All Screen Time Bad?

No. Young people should prioritize their screen time, but often, that seems like a mountainous expectation for them. For some kids, they spend their time watching television or streaming Netflix. However, the screen time that is most important includes connecting with other students, going to class, and learning. Balancing the learning part of screen time with the entertainment part of screen time can be daunting.

Online learning opens the opportunity to learn from others and participate in active discussions like never before.  As a result, video calls and lectures should never be viewed as poor choices to spend on screen time because they’re also an integral part of socialization in today’s digitally driven world.

Because children and teens are not the most responsible about this balance, parents should help their children discern between good and bad screen time.

Prioritize Learning Above Other Screen-related Activities

Online learning should take priority over all other screen time, especially when a child is enrolled in an online school. Screen time is only one medium of learning, but it is the most important medium in today’s world.

If you have a hands-on role in teaching your child, you should try and mix in screen and non-screen activities to give your child’s eyes a break from the screen.

Multiple forms of learning can be incorporated:

  • Traditional pen and paper 
  • Flashcards
  • Physical presentations
  • Audiobooks
  • Podcasts

Teachers may also provide audio-only lectures, which allow the student to take their eyes off of the screen and take notes without needing to focus on the screen. When you focus on learning’s screen time being most important, the student can then decide which form of screen time is the next most important for them.

Off-screen Time Scheduling

It’s easy for kids or adults to get stuck staring at the screen and losing track of time. When a child needs to watch online lectures or attend class online, it’s important that you schedule off-screen time.

You can do this in multiple ways:

  • Use video breaks or transitions as a time to take notes or do something off screen
  • Complete assignments that are off-screen

If you have already scheduled in off-screen time, you should be sure that the child doesn’t use this time to talk to their friends on their phone. If the lecture demands 100% screen time, it’s worth making breaks screen-free so that the students’ eyes can get a rest from the screen.

Break Time

Short, frequent breaks from staring at the screen are enough to stop headaches, blurred vision, and eye strain associated with too much screen time. You’ll want to encourage kids to:

  • Take frequent “eye breaks” every 15 to 30 minutes and
  • Divert their eyes from a screen for 60 to 120 seconds.

During this time, the child can be doing something else, which can be singing, socializing, or engaging in another activity. Scheduling in breaks from screens, even if the break is just for a minute or two at a time, can drastically reduce eye strain.

Hands-on Lessons

Parents who help their children with their online lessons should take notes and encourage hands-on reviews of the materials. The goal here is to help the student learn and study without having to go back to the video lesson to learn.

The hands-on engagement is going to allow the student to learn at-home, build confidence, and do so without relying 100% on virtual learning.

Pen and Paper Notes

Students who type all their notes will be forcing themselves to look at the screen for longer than necessary. One option is to promote pen and paper notes. Studies about the human brain have proven that as much as student might like taking typed notes, the “old fashioned” pen and paper note-taking styles are really the ones that help students learn more. 

Because writing engages different areas of the brain, this leads to the higher retention of materials, too. If the lecture is moving too fast to allow for notes, pause the lesson as necessary to continue taking notes.  In other words, online lectures can be on while the student looks down at their notes and records the most important information.  These pen and paper notes will not only help the student learn more efficiently, but they also allow for a break in looking at a screen, giving the child’s eyes a much needed rest.  Notes provide a nice break that also encourages material retention.

Limit Screen Usage Before Bed

If your child is having difficulty sleeping, you’ll want to limit screen time an hour before bed. The screen’s blue light can interrupt natural sleep patterns and your child’s internal clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

The worst of these sleep reducing culprits is the now essential smartphone.  However, smartphones are a major factor in insomnia among younger age groups.  Parents should limit their child’s screen usage at least one hour prior to bed to avoid sleep-related issues.


Screen time remains a major concern, and while parents can try to limit screen time, online learning has become an integral part of a child’s learning experience. If your child is suffering from eye strain or other screen-related issues, reducing screen time is a necessity.

The tips outlined above can help.

If your child’s eyes still bother them or they’re experiencing headaches, blue-light blocking glasses can help. These glasses are non-prescription and can be worn to eliminate the risk of screen time impacting your child’s eyes.

Balancing screen time with online learning is possible, and the more steps you take to create a balance, the fewer issues your child will have.

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