With mixed feelings, parents everywhere understand that too much screen time for kids comes at a cost.
No one needs to tell us yet again about the effects of too much screen time for kids because we can see it for ourselves.
The unrelenting need to watch YouTube videos, extreme grumpiness when not allowed to play Roblox, couch potato-itis.
Low motivation to do the regular kid stuff and go outside.
However, these last two years have been . . . a lot. And in fairness, screens are everywhere and, in some cases (e.g., online “schooling”) they were imposed on parents without proper training or preparation.
In the exhausting, never-ending quest to guide our kids toward a balanced life, it’s time to recognize that not all screen time is bad, and put shame away and work towards “getting back on track” (or, something like that).
After all, technology’s not going anywhere.
Let’s break it down: what are some of the different types of screen time? How can we best mentor our kids as they engage digitally?
Learning the characteristics of different types of screen time is a good first step in helping our kids understand how to use their devices in a more healthy way.
Screen time can generally be divided into passive and active, with a few sub-categories in between that are worth considering.
Passive Screen Time
Passive screen time is exactly what it sounds like: mindlessly consuming content from the screen without any interaction with others, in a sedentary position.
Also known as “vegging out.” Examples: watching Netflix, zoning out while scrolling on social media, watching YouTube on autopilot.
While it’s definitely common sense to try and minimize passive screen time (here are the WHO guidelines for screen time), we all do it.
Let’s face it, watching screens is relaxing, and can be entertaining/ educational/funny.
Tip: Invite your child to think critically about their passive screen time by asking them questions about it. For example, “What do you love the most about watching TikTok videos?” “Do you ever feel strange after you walk out of a movie theatre?”
Passive Interactive Screen Time: Co-Viewing
When you’re on the couch watching a movie snuggled up with your kids, or laughing at funny videos on the couch together, that’s passive screen time.
However, because you’re doing it together and engaging with one another, the interactive component makes it more valuable than just passive screen time.
Besides the bonding and connecting that can come from consuming media together, a study from Texas Tech University showed that when kids were watching television with their parents, they learned more:
“…the results were clear–parents who want their children to have a better understanding of the programs they are watching need to be present with their child, sitting next to them, watching the program. It's known as co-viewing.”
Real Life Example: Sandra and her 10-year old daughter watch a few minutes of a funny compilation video (e.g., animals or babies) on YouTube together as part of their bedtime routine. They look forward to laughing and cuddling together as they connect and unwind at the end of the day.
Active Screen Time
Assuming they’re at the appropriate age, here are just a few of the active, interactive, and creative ways children can use internet-enabled devices when they’re online:
- Doing homework
- Playing educational video games (e.g., the Cyber Legends epic cyber safety video game!)
- Learning how to farm (e.g., playing Farming Simulator)
- Creating animations and videos
- Making music or digital art
- Building a world (e.g., Minecraft)
- Editing photos
- Video chatting with friends or family
- Instant messaging with friends
- Emailing with friends or family
- Playing collaborative multi-player games [Read: Kids Interacting with Strangers Online: What Parents Need to Know about Multiplayer Games].
- Creating a family calendar
We all want our kids to have a healthy, balanced life. Understanding that technology is no substitute for real life adventures, let’s cut ourselves some slack and recognize that some types of screen time are better than others for our kids.
Screens are here to stay. By recognizing some of the beneficial activities that kids engage in, keeping them safe online, and guiding them to make healthy choices, we become mentors to their healthy digital life.