Good screen time vs bad screen time: Where to draw the line

Sharon Brandwein

September 13, 2022

From the telephone to the television, technology has almost always been met with suspicion. And in spite of all the progress we’ve made, the 21st century is no different. 

Parents are bombarded with warnings to mind their kid’s screen time. And in the absence of clear direction and conflicting information, many end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

But screens are a fact of life in today’s world, and while they often get a bad rap, screens can be a good thing—when used wisely. 

For parents looking for a guilt-free way to let their kids participate in the latest and greatest, the question isn’t how to cut screen time altogether, but rather how to help our kids navigate it safely and successfully and use it to their benefit. Ultimately, it’s all about balance. 

So how much is too much? 

Just 10 years ago, TV still ruled screen time for kids; today, kids spend most of their time on tablets and mobile devices. Moreover, content options are an embarrassment of riches. From games like Roblox and Fortnite to social media and video platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Twitch, the permutations for entertainment are virtually endless. 

Ultimately, it’s up to parents and caregivers to understand that every platform has its pros and cons, and each one can be used in a number of different ways—for better or for worse. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) offers the following guidelines for managing screen time: 

Not all screen time is created equally

Like adults, kids use screens for everything from communicating with friends and relatives to learning and entertainment. But as technology evolves and we attempt to keep up with it, the lines quickly become blurred. The fact is screens can be good and bad. And ultimately, it’s not the amount of screen time that matters as much as the type of content our kids are consuming. 

Psychologists have divided screen time into two categories: active screen time and passive screen time.  A closer look at these two categories may help clear up some of the confusion. 

Active screen time is when we’re engaged with the content we’re learning things, talking to others, or being creative. Active screen time can positively influence kids and lead to enhanced cognitive skills and learning achievements. 

Passive screen time is when we’re watching videos, doling out likes on social media, and mindlessly scrolling. Passive screen time is, of course, considered lower-quality screen time, and this is the type of screen time that we’re always being warned about. 

Ideally (as you might have guessed), active screen time should outweigh passive screen time. Finding a balance between the two all comes down to managing your child’s screen time and the content they consume. 

The best type of screen time for kids

By the time most kids reach age 8, they’re already in control of the content on their screens. But that doesn’t mean parents can’t help their kids prioritize healthy screen time. Teaching your child healthy screen time habits can not only help them make better choices, but it can also help them manage their time more effectively. Ideally, kids should use their screen time to: 

Stay connected

Screen time is a great way to stay connected to friends and family. Kids should always be encouraged to foster those relationships and regularly reach out to friends and loved ones. 

Learn something new 

It’s hard to argue that we’re in the information age, and there is certainly no lack of educational content on the internet. From learning a new language to learning how to bake cupcakes, the internet is an endless well of information, so be sure to encourage your kids to take advantage of it. 

6 tips for establishing healthy screen time 

Screens are not the enemy, and when used properly, they can be excellent tools for learning and self-development. To keep screen time positive and healthy, here are some additional tips for parents: 

  1. Don’t hand your little one a screen and just walk away. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the content they’re consuming and make sure it’s age-appropriate
  2. Talk to your child about what they’re doing with their screen time. Check in regularly on what they watch and ask them questions as a “check on learning.”
  3. Encourage your kid to participate in other activities that don’t involve screens, such as sports, art, or music
  4. Set a good example for your child with your own healthy screen time habits
  5. Talk to your kid about safety and privacy
  6. Don’t make blanket assumptions about your kids. Consider each child individually, and adjust the rules accordingly based on maturity and habits

Screen time has come under fire recently, but technology can be an incredibly powerful tool when used wisely. For parents concerned about screen time, balance and vigilance are the keys to keeping it healthy and safe. 

There’s more where that came from…