Parents, would you rather keep your kids engaged and busy, or let their tender minds waste away due to inactivity?

Obviously you’re choosing the first option, right? Put those young brains to work. That means more reading, more play and… less screentime?

Not quite.

Jordan Shapiro advocates for the benefits of screentime—as well as for balancing it with other activities.

As Shapiro points out, parenting “is not as simple as an on/off toggle switch,” and meaningfully disconnecting from devices doesn’t end when you turn off your phone for the weekend. As always, kids complicate things. Shapiro says that telling your kid to turn off the Xbox doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to spend that time doing something spontaneous and meaningful.

More likely, they’ll do something spontaneous and messy. Parents give kids phones, handheld gaming devices, consoles, and computers to keep them occupied—and quiet. So, Shapiro argues, when they ask kids to disconnect from those devices, “parents need to offer alternatives.”

Kids need direction and encouragement with their play. I was a pretty self-directed kid; mostly I played “silent games” where I acted out stories with my stuffed animals. Mostly. One day in a fit of boredom I cut off my baby brother’s hair and hid it under my bed just because. I’m sure every parent has a story like this, where boredom led to—hopefully—harmless destruction.

We give kids games for the same reason that my parents sat me down in front of Disney movies when I was a kid—it gives parents an hour or two of well-earned peace and quiet.

Games are a little different from films, though. “Gaming teaches your kids important cognitive skills,” Shapiro says, and we agree. When it comes to cognitive development, the time your kids spend gaming is more beneficial than television.

But, like anything, gaming needs to be balanced with other activities. We need the messy imaginative process that is present in other forms of play, as well as the intense focus that we get from solving games.

To that end, Shapiro says, “when your kids step away from a video game they should be noisy.”

And parents should be right there beside them. “When your kids turn off the game console, you should also turn off yours. Use the time to teach your kids how to be silly.”

It’s also good to note that you can engage creatively with games. Talk to your kids about the themes of the game—our library has some starting points—or get together and build game levels with paper and pencils. Act games out with stuffed animals or Legos.

Creating games is a great creative activity. Even if you have no experience, it’s fun to give it a go! In the end the best thing you can do for your kids, no matter how much screentime you give them, is to spend time with them yourself. Show them the behaviors that you want them to learn from you—sometimes that means respectful competition at Mario Party, and sometimes it’s an afternoon spent building fantastical cities in your backyard.

The beauty of parenting is that you get to do both.

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.