This hyper-personalized, autoplaying, all-you-can-eat mediascape helps to distinguish the healthy stuff from the junk. Fortnite? Probably not a great form of screen time. Is it video chatting with grandma? What family-unifying wonders hath Jobs wrought! Screen time, then, has become a slippery concept. Does typing a paper in Google Docs count? What about using a mapping app? Fortunately, researchers are beginning to study screen-based media in all its forms.
Instead of just lumping everything together like they used to. Some types of screen fare are like sugar: Limit consumption, especially before bedtime, and watch for signs of overindulgence—obesity, aggression, grade slippage. Others are more like proteins and veggies: Make sure kids get a balanced diet that includes exercise, IRL socializing, napping, and, yes, screens. Above all, though, know thy child—some kids might be more vulnerable to the latest offering from Epic Games than others.
1. USE SPARINGLY
- Screens Before Bed
- Cortisol-spiking content and melatonin-suppressing blue light impair sleep.
- Background TV
- This reduces the number of words adults utter, potentially stunting kids’ language development.
- Screens During Mealtime
- The habit is linked to overeating and delayed social and language skills due to missing family conversations.
2. USE OCCASIONALLY
- To reduce the risk of kids stumbling onto iffy content, turn Autoplay off and Restricted Mode on.
- First-Person Shooter Videogames
- While violent media is linked to aggression, boys who abstain from video games report more social isolation.
- Social Media
- Most teens say social media helps them feel more connected to friends, although heavy use has been linked to depression and anxiety.
- Apps like RescueTime can help kids reflect on their screen use.
3. USE MODERATELY
- Interactive Ebooks
- Ebooks with lots of bells and whistles reduce comprehension but may help kids who would otherwise lose interest.
- For age-appropriate content, consult independent review sites like Common Sense Media.
- Shows like The Wiggles and YouTube channels like Kidz Bop encourage children to dance.
- Active Videogames
- Older exergaming consoles like Wii and Kinect, and newer games like Beat Saber and Rec Room, can help kids break a sweat.