These days, we’re relying on our devices more than ever before. Although traffic from wireless and mobile devices was already expected to account for more than 63% of all web traffic by 2021, the pandemic has made screen time virtually inescapable. From remote work to distance learning, families often have no choice but to be glued to their phones, tablets, and computers. One survey even found that screen time among American kids increased by 500% during the pandemic.

For concerned parents, this isn’t a positive development. Studies have found that excessive screen time can have negative effects on developing minds and bodies, from hampered language skills to strained eyes. And while 33% of people stop engaging with a website if its content or layout can be deemed unattractive, many kids aren’t as discerning when they’re surfing the web or playing a game online. Even before COVID-19 hit, children in the U.S. were already exceeding recommended screen time limits. And since the World Health Organization published strict daily screen time recommendations last year, it’s no wonder that parents are worried about the indirect effects that our current health crisis might have.

But experts say that it might not be the end of the world (which is surprising, given everything that’s happened this year). Although approximately 70% of parents surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they were concerned about their children spending too much time in front of a screen, the reality is that the quality of the content they consume might matter more than the amount of time they’re spending on this activity. A new report from Common Sense Media suggests that there are some benefits to utilizing screentime, particularly when educational and engaging content is consumed. What’s more, screens can allow kids to connect with their friends and loved ones during a time when in-person interaction continues to be limited in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Although it’s important to keep an eye on how much screen time your child has, it’s essential to keep the context in mind. Spending an hour scrolling on social media is drastically different from watching an educational program or playing a game that can actually foster brain development. Even a game like Minecraft, which has sold over 200 million copies as of May 2020, has educational benefits — so don’t be too quick to dismiss something of value just because it’s also enjoyable.

Of course, it still may be necessary for both kids and parents to limit their interaction with screens during the pandemic — particularly if your child’s remote learning routine is slated to continue this fall. If you’re looking to curb those habits and ensure your child knows when to put their devices away, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind.

  • Schedule some tech-free time before bed, during dinner, and on weekends to enjoy an activity as a family
  • Have other activities at the ready to stave off boredom and encourage crafts or outdoor fun
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of spending too much time staring at a screen
  • Keep electronics in shared family spaces to discourage hours of use
  • Set a good example with your own devices
  • Consider using an app to monitor family screen time and set up restrictions

For many parents, too much screen time is a valid concern. But keep in mind that screens can provide some value, particularly during challenging times. As long as you use tech to your advantage, reinforce healthy habits, and stay realistic about your expectations, your kids will be able to strike a good balance without missing out.