“Can I play with the iPad”, “Can I play on your/my phone”, “Can I play on the playstation”

These may sound like familiar phrases in your house…as a father of 3 boys, they are in mine.  Often times as parents raising kids in a world where they are around technology all the time, we find ourselves wondering how much screen time is too much.

Each family has different factors to think about…such as age or need.   Younger children require less screen time because it is not developmentally appropriate, whereas older children may need more because these are the different ways they communicate with friends, teachers, etc.  Sometimes it is important to have screen time to connect with families, and other times it can be a divider amongst us (lack of face to face communication amongst families). Unfortunately, there is not a clear cut answer, and it is important to understand that it is not a one size fits all model. 

With that being said, I think there’s an implicit bias when asking the question how much screen time is too much…the question alone implies we think of screen time in a negative way.  However, not all screen time is bad. If we focus on the creative and educational uses of devices, screen time can actually be beneficial.  

I recently came across an infographic where someone compares screen time to the healthy eating food pyramid and even created a screen time pyramid.  The food pyramid shows the foods we need most at the bottom and the ones we need least at the top. Similarly, the screen time pyramid shows 3 level, showing screen time that has more value at the bottom and keeping the less valuable (the junk food) at the top


Let’s break down the 3 levels:

The Bottom Layer-Workouts for the Mind (Creation)

In this layer the technology is used for creating/building/making/connecting.  When you children are using screen time, we want to encourage this as it exercises the intellect…providing the most value:

  • Producing original written works
  • Producing original Audio/visual works
  • Coding
  • Connecting with a grandparent using FaceTime, Skype, etc.
  • Interacting with a website that gives feedback  

The Middle Level – Building Blocks for Greater Things (Consumption)

This is the level where knowledge is consumed to build skills, competencies, and understanding.  

  • Using educational apps and programs
  • Reading quality e-books and websites
  • Watching educational TV programs and quality films
  • Using email/social media to form meaningful social connections or organize face to face interactions

The Top Layer – Screen Junk

This is the junk food level.  Just like candy or ice cream, it is our guilty pleasure and should/can be used as treats. Providing time for this level will  help children to communicate with their friends, form their own identities, and build their interests. It is what kids want to do, but shouldn’t be all the time.

  • watching mindless TV
  • playing mindless games

Hopefully treating screen time like the old food pyramid can offer some guidance to you as you navigate technology in your household with your child.   Find things that have more nutritional value and continue to steer them in that direction while still allowing time for the mindless stuff. Just like anything, children need balance, so hit the all levels with moderation and ensure they are also not totally focused on screen time…free play, sleeping, face to face interactions, etc. are important too!