Setting Limits: Limiting Children’s Screen Time Through Curation

What if you thought of yourself as the custodian of your child’s entertainment library? Curating, or choosing, the type of content your children can access is one approach to limiting children’s screen time. This approach to limit-setting focuses on what your kids consume rather than how much. Parents who use this approach often focus on the educational value of technology and view certain types of games and apps as helpful to their kids. More and more, educators and neuroscientists are recognizing the learning potential of popular games and apps like Angry Birds, Portal 2, or Starcraft — games that are not billed as “educational” but are cognitively challenging nonetheless.

Curating your child’s digital library requires knowledge and active involvement in its selection. If you choose to use the curation strategy to limit your child’s screen time, consider the following tips.

  1. Differentiate within media types.  All television shows are not the same. There are some great shows for your kids on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and the Science Channel and some far less mentally-nutritious ones on many other networks. The same goes for video games.
  2. Focus more on the type and contents of media rather than the amount of time. If your high school student has a project or school paper due, she or he will need to spend a significant amount of time researching materials on the Internet. This should be considered educational time, even if the student gets waylaid by reading their favorite blog or watching a few YouTube videos. Judge media use based upon the character of the content rather than the amount of time.
  3. Look for games and technologies that require brainpower. Many video games, such as Minecraft, Portal 2, and Little Big Planet, encourage creativity and require persistence and other cognitive resources like problem solving and the ability to analyze and adapt to new situations. Make sure that these games are age-appropriate for you child. Even the Call of Duty series requires significant cognitive resources for in-game success but are clearly inappropriate for younger children to play.
  4. Find ways to balance the types of digital play in which your child  engages. For example, overdoing it with a particular game will max out its benefits. Just like focusing on exercising the biceps will build one’s upper arms but otherwise have little impact on general physical fitness, the same is true for spending all of one’s time focusing on one game or even one game genre. It is important for your child to develop interest in multiple game genres and technologies.
  5. Look for technologies that will build interpersonal skills. Many of the best games and apps are designed to be used jointly with other people. They involve interacting and engaging with others. Watching a movie together can be a fantastic family experience, but one of the most beneficial aspects of family movie night is the opportunity for physical closeness and discussion. With video games and other technologies, social skills are developed through collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Multiplayer games require awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses and those of co-players, as well as the ability to effectively communicate ideas and feelings.

Taking on the role of curator is necessary, but there is no doubt that it can be overwhelming. For ideas on how to talk to your kids about video games and apps, and for information on the technologies they are already engaging with, check out our playbook database. You might find other posts about setting limits helpful, like this one about how to limit kids’ video game and technology use, or this one about why children with Autism should play video games.

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