Pandemic Play: Why Kids and Their Parents Need More Than Screens

Nowadays, technology is an integral part of children’s lives. However, children’s play proves to be just as important. In fact, children’s play is recognized as one of their most powerful tools for learning. But how do kids play during a pandemic? Play is still important, but it’s different for kids. As for adults, play and recreation can have a significant and positive impact on health and happiness. 

Prior to the pandemic, playing and working on digital media encompassed on average about 9.5 hours per day for teens and nearly 8 hours per day for children between the ages of 8 and 13.  Remote learning has made many kids and teens “sick” of screen time, even if that time is spent playing. During COVID-19, it is even more important to recognize how kids play during a pandemic and that parents and kids need more than screens when they want to entertain themselves. 

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, kids and their parents are spending more time on screens than ever before. Ten years ago, a national study of more than 700 families conducted in 2010 by the Kaiser Foundation found that kids spent 8 hours and 38 minutes watching television and playing computer and video games, often while simultaneously using other screen-based technologies. This is an incredible amount of time to be utilizing screens. A later survey from Common Sense Media in 2016 raised this amount of screen-based time to 9 hours 30 minutes per day for teens and pre-teens!

This served as my primary reason for writing my book, Playing Smarter in a Digital World. I searched to emphasize the importance of play in the lives of kids and adults alike. Acknowledging that technology is an integral part of children’s lives, adults need to understand what kids are doing with technology, how to help them benefit from their digital activities, and also how to encourage and engage in other forms of play.

My newest book written for teenagers, The Gaming Overload Workbook: A Teenager’s Guide to Balancing Screen Time, Video Games, and Real-Life, focuses on how to manage this abundance of screen time, helping kids to find other “play” activities that they can enjoy away from technology. 

While I might argue that playing games on a console, computer, or mobile device is not inherently unhealthy or problematic, overdoing it may certainly have a negative impact. It is important that parents take a step back and gain a more balanced perspective of digital media so they can encourage use of the games, apps, and social media their kids would most benefit from playing. In Playing Smarter in a Digital World, this parenting process encourages the creation of a healthy “Play Diet.” A healthy Play Diet balances digital play (video games, internet use, etc) with physical, social, creative, and unstructured play. While Play Diets may vary based upon a child’s age and their family’s interests and sensibilities, all children benefit from engagement in a variety of play.

It is important to note that I place the emphasis on play rather than focusing solely on learning. I believe that we have begun to overemphasize academic learning in our schools and homes at the expense of play when in reality, children’s play is one of the most powerful sources for learning. Play leads to creativity, better problem solving skills, the development of cognitive and social skills, and academic learning. In today’s world, digital play has become an additional portion in a healthy Play Diet

Playing Smarter in a Digital World shows parents how to balance digital play with other forms of play. It is equally important that parents learn how to engage in digital play with their children and how to transform the children’s love and engagement with technology into opportunities for learning. Given that many kids may be exhausted by remote screen-based learning, now is the time to help kids explore and discover new ways to play.


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