Researchers Suggest Parents Guide Kids’ Screen Time, Rather Than Limit it


For many years, the general consensus has been that parents should limit the time kids spend in front of any and all screens. But that is starting to change.

As profiled recently in The Wall Street Journal, researchers and academics are starting to change their view of the screen as a whole, deciding that it might not be necessary to rate it in “exposure,” but instead as a tool in most instances. It should be noted that researchers and academics aren’t saying that kids should just sit in front of a screen all day every day, but that there are some obvious benefits to displays, and that it depends more on what the kids are doing with their time in front of a screen, rather than just how much time they’re spending in front of it.

The new idea, which is being heralded by British researchers and echoed by those in the United States, is to start seeing screen time as “passive” and “active,” with the key differentiator being the deciding factor on how much time a kid spends in front of a screen. Passive time is pretty obvious, with kids (and adults) just sitting in front of a display and watching videos.

Active time in front of a screen is where a kid might be playing a video game, learning something new, or otherwise pursuing creative efforts.

The new goal is to define these passive and active times, and limit the passive time, rather than the overall time a kid might spend looking at a screen.

“One way to sum up the new way of thinking is to differentiate between “passive” screen time, such as viewing videos, and “active” time, including creative pursuits but also (parent-approved) videogames, says AnnMarie Thomas, director of the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where her team creates hands-on learning experiences for children of all ages. Limiting passive time could be the new version of limiting screen time.”

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been leaning this way for a couple of years now, as the original report notes, saying that it matters more what a kid is doing while looking at a screen, rather than just the overall time the kid spends looking at a display.

Our Take

This has always felt like an important differentiator to this writer. As a parent of two, giving my kids something to actually do while they’re watching a screen has always been a priority. Even most of the games they play on the family’s tablet have a learning element to them in some way or another, whether it’s something about nature, animals, math, or something of that nature. These defining rules from the AAP and other researchers are probably echoing what most parents have discovered on their own these days, considering screens are all over the place.

Do you limit your kids’ time with any type of screen in your home?

[via The Wall Street Journal]