Making Sense of Screen Time - A Parent's Guide

Making Sense of Screen Time - A Parent's Guide

Categorized under: technology trends

One of the biggest challenges we face as parents is striking the right balance for screen time. On the one hand, we know that devices offer great potential for learning. On the other hand, we know that there are tons of pure leisure applications. To make sure that our kids don’t become the batteries within The Matrix, we wanted to start the conversation around what considerations there should be to help better distinguish between appropriate & inappropriate uses of screen time.

When I was a kid, there was a big concern about how much time my friends and I were spending playing video games. In addition to the number of hours, there were also concerns about the type of video game. Generally, it was considered OK to play Mario Bros. But, several hours of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter was considered a no-no.

For those in my parent’s generation, I’m certain that there was a big issue around how much TV they were watching with programs like Andy Griffith or anything on PBS being generally OK and shows related to more controversial subjects being frowned upon. In my grandparent’s generation, I’m sure that there was a lot of heartache around what kids were listening to on the radio – with certain music or ball games being OK while other stations they had to stay away from.  In a sense, anytime an innovation is introduced, we want to make sure that the ‘guinea pigs’ aren’t adversely affected by a lack of consideration for the potential outcomes. As adults who have grown up with these devices become a more and more important part of our daily lives, we are acutely aware of how attractive these devices can be to kids because we ourselves utilize them constantly for social media, email and mobile applications.

One important distinction to make with our modern day devices is that they combine both learning & leisure into a single device. The same tablet kids use to do research for projects at school can also be used to watch hours of videos on YouTube. So, when we make a blanket decision about screen time; it is important to keep in mind that there is a difference. 

In general, we believe there are two key buckets to consider as it relates to screen time for children:


Content creation is when kids are using devices to build and grow their knowledge. This could be watching a how-to-video on YouTube, writing lines of code in Python to actuate a circuit, or practicing their math skills with exercises on Khan Academy.


Content consumption is when kids are using devices to watch unboxing videos on YouTube, text messaging their friends on Snapchat, playing video games via apps or liking posts on social media.

From the categories above, we can see that it is not always easy to distinguish based simply on the application –YouTube for example, that your child is using. In addition, we believe that there are benefits to not only learning how to create but also consume. In an increasingly technological world, kids need to understand both. In our studios at Digital Adventures, we have noticed that due to the proliferation of tablets and mobile devices that utilize swipe & touch screen technology that many students do not know how to type using a keyboard or navigate a screen using a mouse. So, we end up building these skills over time so that these kids have that as part of their toolbox. In a similar manner, if kids don’t learn how to engage with their friends IRL (in real life) or through social media that can also place their development at a disadvantage.


Our recommendations for age-appropriate screen time are based on the latest research from the American Association of Pediatrics:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
In addition, we would also suggest device free times & locations. For example, when we take road trips as a family, we do not allow our kids to access their devices. Instead we want them to look at the window and take in the beauty of nature that is all around. We also want them to develop the creativity to play games with their siblings. This has led to epic I-Spy games.

We also make sure that anytime devices are being used that they are in common areas. So, regardless of consumption or creation, our kids have to use their devices in the living room of the home. We have also focused attention on not having everyone on their own individual device to teach empathy and teamwork. This had led to the kids choosing Home Alone for us to watch as a family or my son getting my daughter interested in Minecraft.

As parents we must also be sensitive to the face that these devices can be used by adults with ill-intent to try to connect with our kids. Because devices are typically being used within the home, there is a false sense of security that kids tend to associate with their use. However, predators can leverage this misguided trust to ultimately lure kids into meetings with dangerous and sometimes deadly results. It is important to get ahead of this by having honest and ongoing conversations with your kids about the risks and ways that they can protect themselves. Just like we don’t allow our children to cross the street without first teaching them to look both ways, we must also teach them about how to be safe when using a connected device.

One final reminder about screen time on devices is that the use cases are still evolving. So, it’s important above all else that we maintain conversations with our kids about how they are using their devices and what is appropriate. As parents, we won’t always be able to keep up with every individual app. But, if we arm our kids with guidelines about the difference between consumption and creation along with the mutual responsibility for safety, we will find that these devices will be able to grow our kids’ capabilities. 

About the Author: Omowale Casselle is the Co-Founder & CEO of Digital Adventures.