Can Screen Time from Digital Devices Encourage Creativity and Curiosity in Kids?

Nearly every parent gets the same guilty feeling when handing their kid a phone or tablet. You’ve seen the studies and stories in the media about shrinking attention spans, stunted social growth, childhood obesity, and all the other dangers of too much screen time. You can’t help but wonder if you’re making a major parenting mistake.

There are a lot of fears surrounding kids, the internet, and screen time. Some of them have merit, but are we overlooking the positive impact that screen time can have on children?

Sara DeWitt, a children’s media expert working with PBS Kids, thinks many of our fears are overblown. In a 2017 TED Talk, she explained that devices such as smartphones and tablets have the potential to add a lot of value to a child’s education and development.

“I can envision a future where we would be excited to see a preschooler interacting with a screen. These screens can get kids up and moving even more. They have the power to tell us more about what a child is learning than a standardized test can. And, here’s the really crazy thought, I believe these screens have the power to prompt more real-life conversations between kids and parents.”

Screen Time: Quantity vs Quality

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated guidelines for children and screen time. The AAP slightly relaxed its “2×2 Rule” which originally called for no screen time for those under two years-old and no more than two hours a day for children of any age. The new guidelines allowed for video chatting for children under two, and recommended one hour per day for kids ages two to five.

Yet, others believe even the AAP’s relaxed recommendations are still too restrictive and fail to take the full picture into consideration. Some mental health experts say being overly strict about screen time can have a negative impact. According to Psychology Today, screen time rules may cause anxiety and aggression in kids while impeding their ability to show self-control and regulate their own use of digital devices.

A more recent study published in the journal Child Development found the AAP’s guidelines were based on out-of-date information. Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute tested the AAP’s recommendations, interviewing 20,000 parents. They found no consistent correlation between the advised limits to digital device usage and children’s wellbeing.

“Our findings suggest that there is little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children’s psychological wellbeing. If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.”

Digital devices are part of our everyday reality. Sheltering kids from them rather than encouraging healthy habits from the start could do more harm than good. That’s why context is key when it comes to your children’s screen time. What they’re doing and viewing is equally as important as how long they use a device.

Of course, there are plenty of things your little ones should not be seeing or doing on phones and tablets, and you should make sure devices are safe for kids. But, what happens when you start thinking of phones, tablets, and laptops as tools that can enrich your child’s life?

After all, we live in an exciting time where a wealth of information and possibilities exist thanks to technology. Why deprive your kids of opportunities to learn, explore, and express themselves?

4 Ways to Make Screen Time a Positive Experience for Kids

1. Turn Digital Learning into Digital Play

Sara DeWitt and PBS Kids worked to create online experiences for young children that are fun and educational. If you have kids who love PBS shows and characters like Wild Kratts, Curious George, Sesame Street, and Daniel Tiger, the PBS Kids apps are a great way for preschoolers and elementary age children to spend screen time learning with games and video clips.

For quirky kids’ apps that are more about exploration than game play, check out the content from Toca Boca. The Toca Life apps let kids play around in settings like farms, offices, and hospitals. Toca Lab apps lets kids grow plants or conduct science experiments with elements from the periodic table.

There are many other enriching digital options, including Skybrary, a curated collection of digital books from Reading Rainbow host Levar Burton. If your youngsters love Disney Junior and Nick Jr., both have collections of kid-friendly games and apps.

Even when kids aren’t learning numbers and letters, online games require active participation rather than passive consumption. They’ll be enhancing eye-hand coordination and developing problem solving skills as they play, which is better than watching the same episode of that annoying cartoon for the 100th time.

2. Encourage Creativity

Do you have an emerging artist, a future rock star, a budding author, or the next tech entrepreneur in your home? The right digital activities can encourage your child’s creative side.

For artists, you’ll find several YouTube channels with drawing tutorials tailored to kids. Here are just a few:

There’s a lot kids can learn and experience on YouTube, from karate classes and magic tricks to fun dance lessons and kid-friendly jokes for up-and-coming comedians.

Besides YouTube, there are many applications designed to support young creative types. Try BookCreator for aspiring authors and illustrators. Music-making apps such as Keezy (sound sampling app) and Easy Music (gamified music lessons) put kids on a path to becoming talented musicians.

Minecraft is an extremely popular game your kids may already be obsessed with, but did you know, they’re also learning to code while they play? The founder of CodaKid explains how in an article on Tech.co. Other fun apps that teach coding include Tynker and Kodable.

There are even digital games for future business leaders. Check out Adventure Capitalist and let your young Jeff Bezos build a business empire using what the creators at HyperHippo call “arguably the world’s greatest capitalism simulator.”

Whatever your kids latest interest or hobby might be … there’s most likely an app (or YouTube channel) for that. And, don’t forget, mobile devices have cameras that allow kids to take and edit their own pictures and videos.

3. Help Kids Connect with Others

While younger kids may not be ready for their own social media accounts, they can still use devices in a social way. Digital devices connect kids to people who are important to them, so use some of that screen time to build relationships.

Most kids have already experienced games and videos on smartphones and tablets. It’s the stuff that is basic to adults that can sometimes seem magical to them.

If grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins live out of town, schedule time to use FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts for a digital family reunion via video chat. Teach them how to have phone conversations with people or let them type out their own text messages.

There are also apps like Far Far Away and Caribu that let parents who travel stay connected with kids and participate in their nightly bedtime story. Another storytime app is Novel Effect. It uses voice recognition to add audio effects and music to popular kids’ books as you read. Imagine hearing the Very Hungry Caterpillar munch away, or experiencing the sounds of the beasts in Where the Wild Things Are.

4. Turn Screen Time into Family Time

Screen time is only isolating for children if you let it be that way. One thing parenting and child development experts agree on is that becoming an active participant in your kids’ digital activities is beneficial.

Instead of getting involved in an overbearing or controlling way, show a genuine interest in what your kids are doing, viewing, and learning about. Find games you can play together and as a family.

There are apps like Homey that reward kids for doing chores, apps like Mealime to assist with meal planning, or grocery shopping list apps like Bring! These are all digital solutions that help your family stay organized and productive, but letting kids be involved and use the app with you is an excellent way to make them feel like an important part of the family.

Believe it or not digital devices can even have your family heading outside and into nature. Check out our list of 8 Fun Apps to Get Your Family Outdoors.

What’s Right for Your Family?

As parents, it’s our job to encourage our kids to make good choices. That could mean choosing healthy foods, choosing to treat others with respect, or choosing to finish homework before playing video games.

TechDen™ combines a mobile app with device charging and storage to create a system parents can use as a tool to help families develop healthy relationships with technology and each other.

TechDen is designed to be a collaborative way to set limits combining management software with a device storage unit that locks. Instead of shutting devices down, TechDen gently reminds family members about goals and schedules you decide on together. The app is easy to use and takes just five minutes to set up.

Download the screen time app and order TechDen for your family to discover how to stop arguing about device time and start working together to find solutions everyone agrees upon.

Watch the Sara DeWitt TED Talk