Last night, I did a webinar with Amy Lang of MamaCon and Birds+Bees+Kids. It was all about screen time for kids. One reason we wanted to tackle this topic is that we think a lot of parents are confused about screen time for kids and sometimes (or often) feel guilty about letting their kids spend too much time in front of screens. Here’s what we talked about in the webinar. I’ve included a bunch of links to help you learn more about this important topic—and feel more empowered and way less guilty.

Or, you can watch the webinar for yourself! Click here to register, and then the video will be emailed to you. It’s about an hour long. If you already registered, you can click here to sign in and access the video now.

Screen Time for Kids Is a Necessity

Like adults, kids are required to use screens now for work and play. For the time being, we might be stuck with this situation, although we’re going to have better options before too long. (More about that later.)

Let’s face it: screens are everywhere. If you didn’t grow up with them (I didn’t), a screen-infused life can seem pretty strange. But digital natives—kids who grew up with the Internet and screens all over the place—don’t think it’s strange at all. And they don’t necessarily make the same distinctions older folks do between screens and real life. Screens ARE real life. Here are a couple of articles by Keezy Young about that:

Screen Time Is Hard on All of Us

It makes sense to try to limit screen time because we’re not built for it. It puts strain on the eyes, the back and shoulders—the whole body, really. It keeps us more sedentary than we want to be. So it’s a good idea to figure out how much time per day you want to devote to screen time vs. non-screen time. And for kids it’s SO much more important to limit screen time. Kids need exercise and a balanced slate of activities to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Recently a study came out that linked lower bone density in boys to an excess of screen time. Interestingly, the same finding did not seem to apply to girls. But we know that it’s important for ALL kids to get enough exercise.

Screen Time for Kids Should Be Limited

This is common sense, but it bears saying: parents should place limits on screen time, especially for young children. A report in the journal Pediatrics last year addressed the topic and came up with some important recommendations:

  • Kids under 2 should be kept away from screens as much as possible.
  • Kids 2 and over should get two hours of recreational screen time (or less) per day.
  • Screens should be kept out of bedrooms and screens should be avoided around bedtime.
  • Parents should know what their kids are viewing or playing—and they should view or play with their kids.

Notice that recreational screen time was singled out. Pediatricians know that kids are using screens in school and for homework, and if you count that time, two hours a day just isn’t enough.

It’s also important to note that the report acknowledges that screen time is NOT all bad. Kids get a lot out of their recreational screen time. They interact with friends, they write and read and make art, they practice strategy and hand-eye coordination, and much more.

My favorite article on this subject  is How Kids’ Screen Time Guidelines Came About and How To Enforce Them, by Kendall Powell. Powell’s article interprets the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on media use. It points out that there aren’t many good studies that have been done about children and screen time. It makes sense, since things are changing so fast! Most of the studies that do exist talk about TV use, and there’s some evidence video games don’t have the same negative effects as TV time.

Screen Time Is Hard to Control

So every family should have a plan. But as kids get older, you should just expect that screen time—like any other behavior kids engage in—will get harder for you to control. When kids are small, you supervise them all the time, but when they’re older they need more privacy. They also need to practice self-regulation. Know that if your kid is a gamer he or she is probably going to want to exceed screen-time limits. Sometimes it will be difficult to make clear distinctions between non-recreational screen time and recreational screen time.

If your child is a teenager and is very busy and active during the week and wants to spend some stretch of hours gaming on the weekend, maybe that should be okay. Some games require longer stretches of time to play well. Think of chess! Many video games are like chess on steroids in terms of the strategy involved and the time and study and effort it takes to learn how to play.

Consider the Play Diet

If you’re hoping for more guidance, you might like the Play Diet concept by Dr. Randy Kulman. He took the government’s guidelines for nutrition and applied those concepts to play time. He divides the “media diet” into Digital Play (anything with screens), Social Play (board games, etc.), Active Play (sports, etc.), Creative Play (art projects, etc.), and Free Play (imaginative play).

learning works for kids play diet graphic cropped screen time for kids

Play Diet by Learning Works for Kids

Consider Special Needs

If you have a special-needs child, an “alternative learner,” or a child with learning challenges like ADHD, you might have specific challenges related to digital play. For instance, lots of kids on the autism spectrum are especially drawn to digital play. This is a problem for some parents because it’s hard to get kids to transition between activities. And for some kids apps and games can actually be very helpful—training kids to recognize facial expressions, for instance. If you have a child with special needs, do go to Learning Works for Kids and explore the content. You can sign up for a personalized program for your child and get recommendations for games and other activities.

Learn About Gaming Addiction

There’s some very good news, here. Addiction to gaming is considered rare. Unfortunately, there aren’t many really good studies. And it’s really hard to tell if kids game too much as a result of depression, for instance. Gaming too much is often more of a symptom than a cause of problems.

Take the Simple Approach

If all this seems too complicated, you might want boil it down a little. Make sure your kids get enough exercise and balance screen time with non-screen time. Don’t forget to include television and movies in the screen-time category. Keep screens out of bedrooms and away from bedtime as much as you can. Most of all, talk to your kids about their screen-time habits. Really listen. What are they looking at on the screens? Books, movies, games, social media? Know what they’re into. Sit down with them and play games or talk about what they’re watching, reading, and playing. And be sure to model good screen-time habits.

Gaming Is a Special Kind of Screen Time for Kids

At least 97% of kids play video games these days. And the good news is that video games can be good for kids. Check out these articles and links for more information:

Video Games Are Awesome and Varied

Most of us know about the blockbuster games, but parents should know there’s a huge variety of interesting, fun, and educational games out there. Some games these days actually get kids up and moving. And Pixelkin has a database of games so you can select games that match your kids’ interests or a particular subject. For example, you can go to our Game Picker on the home page, select Genre, select Educational, and get a list of educational games. Or you can search by your kids’ ages. Our Game Picker includes information about which devices the games run on, what kind of content is in them, and more.

If you sign up for a free membership, you can get a personalized recommendation for video games your particular kids might like.

I’d especially like to highlight these parts of Pixelkin that help parents understand the world of video games and pick appropriate games for kids:

  • Summer Gaming List 2015: a list of terrific modern games sorted by age group.
  • Our Tips for Parents page, which includes links to a Dictionary of Gaming Terms, a Concerns page with research to enlighten and reassure you, and articles that will help you learn the basics about video games and why they’re important to kids.

Now for the 3 Ideas

Technology isn’t going away, but screens might become obsolete. We are seeing this trend in some of the new smart toys. These are toys that incorporate tech, but encourage face-to-face interactions and physical movement.

And of course there are video games now that use motion capture (Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move) to actually get you up and moving. We hope these trends continue and screen time eventually becomes something parents have to worry about a whole lot less.

In the meantime, remember these three things that will make you feel better about screen time for kids:

1. You can and should set limits on screen time that make sense to you and your kids.

2. Screen time is not all bad. Kids get incredibly social and creative with their screen time.

3. You can find video games that are fun, interesting, educational, and get you moving, so screen time can be even more beneficial.

This article was written by

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda or her family foundation's website,