Help Kids Lean into Active vs. Passive Screen Time
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Help Kids Lean into Active vs. Passive Screen Time

How to curate online content that kids care about and you feel good about.

Shelter-in-place orders have shifted the conversation about screen time limits. What was once a struggle for parents to curb has now become the only way to connect with our community, our work, and our schools. In the U.S., in fact, most 6 to 12 year-olds say they use screen devices either a lot more (at least 50 percent more), twice as much or for what feels like "most of the day" during the coronavirus pandemic.

While more relaxed limits might make sense right now, we as parents can make sure our kids are spending more time learning from and interacting with online content—otherwise, known as “active” screen time—rather than passively scrolling through it.

“Research shows that kids 8-18 years old spend just 3 percent of their time online creating—doing such things as creating music, writing blogs or other such endeavors,” says Dr. Delaney Ruston, family physician and creator of the award-winning film Screenagers. “The majority of screen time use is consuming, which would be things such as watching shows, gaming, or scrolling on social media,” she continues.

What's the problem with passive screen time? “This use of attention is underutilizing the teen advantage, which is their heightened creative capacity at this developmental stage,” adds Dr. Ruston.

It also means kids spend more time sitting around rather than being inspired to move about or create something offline. According to the CDC, teens spend on average 7.5 hours a day watching entertainment passively on screen, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for the recommended hour (at least) of physical activity a day for this age.

So how can we steer our kids toward more creative digital endeavors? First, consider what they loved to do before the quarantine. There are plenty of ways to foster that passion with online classes, podcasts, apps, books, and virtual tours. Here are a few suggestions to inspire your artist to draw digitally, your aspiring chef to learn from a master, and for all kids to spend their extra time online reaching their creative capacity.

Teens (ages 13 and up)
- Online classes: Khan Academy, Masterclass, Sparketh, BraveWriter and pre-college course from universities like Cornell
- YouTube: TED-Ed, Smithsonian Channel, Big Think, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls
- Apps: CreativeLive, Autodesk Sketchbook, Happy Not Perfect Meditation, Reason Compact
- Podcasts: Part-Time Genius, Radiolab, Stuff You Missed in History Class, TED Talks Daily, Youth Radio

Tweens (ages 9-12)
- Online classes: Connected Camps, America's Test Kitchen, Outschool, Tech Rocket, The Paint Box Art Studio
- YouTube: SoulPancake, Geek Gurl Diaries, React, The Brain Scoop, Minute Physics
- Apps: Google Arts & Culture, Stack the States, Duolingo, Box Island, Marble Math
- Podcasts: Harry Potter Sacred Text, Pants on Fire, Eleanor Amplified, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Kids (up to 8)
- Online activities: ABCMouse, Discovery Education Experience, Scholastic and astronauts reading stories from space!
- YouTube: Sesame Street, PBS Kids, National Geographic Kids, Lunch Doodles by children’s book author Mo Willems
- Apps: Caribu, Marco World School, Kanopy, Kahoot
- Podcasts: Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl, Pinna, But Why?, Ear Snacks, Storytime

These educational online activities can free up your time to get work done (and feel less guilty about the uptick in screen time) but you can also join in on the fun. There are also great activities to engage in together as a family: Explore virtual tours together at U.S. National Parks and world-renowned museums via Google Arts & Culture. Catch a concert with NPR’s list of virtual performances. Visit zoos, parks, and theme parks (Today Show has a list) around the world without leaving your home. And be sure to check out more ideas from Circle to keep the kids leaning into active screen time.

At least for now, technology can be a great way to learn and connect if we curate more of those experiences with a creative lens. Circle can help you filter content and set limits around online media as you face this new screen time challenge. Learn more here.


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