How to educate your child in healthy device use: active vs passive screen time

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Kidslox team


active screen time

Do your children spend night and day with iPads in hand? Are you sick and tired of trying to convince them to abandon useless screen time? The time they spend in front of screens doesn’t have to be all bad. Not all screen time is equal and kids can get real cognitive benefits and social skills out of their screen time if approached correctly. Let’s take a look at how this can be achieved.

Different types of screen time

With the invasion of technology into our life, a large range of screen time types has appeared. One way to assess the potential benefit of screen time consumption is by considering whether it’s active or passive.

Passive consumption is when a child passively absorbs information from the screen or consumes an app or a game through mindless repetition. Passive activities can include monitoring social media, watching videos on Youtube (especially if autoplay is on, i.e. the next video is not watched for any reason other than that it was offered), playing repetitive games and binge watching shows.
The main characteristic of passive screen time is that no thought, creativity or interaction is required to progress.

Active screen time, on the contrary, involves cognitive and/or physical engagement in the process of device usage. This might include activities like making Youtube videos, playing educational games, editing pictures, coding a website etc. Kids are expected to reply, draw a picture, create or move. More than that, language, social and physical skills are developing.
In fact, any software that involves effort on the part of the child has an educational side which promotes learning. Apps allowing kids to practice letters, numbers, and spelling can be viewed as active and therefore effective for child development. Even video games might be regarded as active screen time if they promote physical or cognitive activity.
While monitoring and scrolling through social media is very much a passive activity, engaging in conversation, taking photos and posting them to your account or writing posts that explore ideas and provoke discussion are all very much active types of engagement. The same program can be passive or active depending on how it is used.

Age appropriate screen consumption

As children grow, they mature and their needs and abilities change. Let’s have a look at how active and passive screen time consumption recommendations change as a child grows up. None of these numbers constitutes firm medical advice, it’s our opinions about what’s appropriate based on personal observation and wider reading. It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of grey areas and room for individual customization when it comes to child screen time.

Age 0-6
Passive. No passive screen time is recommended. There’s no point to it. During this period a child’s brain is rather fragile so passive consumption should be totally avoided. It can potentially delay language development, limit vocabulary or possibly contribute to even more serious problems like insomnia, depression and screen addiction.
Active. Software for communicating with the members of the family are good for developing social skills and improving vocabulary at this point. Spend family time by playing learning games and using interactive fun activities together.

Age 6-10
Passive. While passive screen time is generally to be avoided, watching or playing popular or iconic shows and games can be an important part of a child’s cultural education. With this in mind, a couple of hours per week of passive screen time might be considered an acceptable concession. Remember that you can improve the quality of such screen time by discussing the content with your kids.
Active.Use active screen time opportunities that build on your child’s interests and talents. Encourage creative pastimes whether that involves drawing, making and editing videos or building game levels using an in-game level creator (an option in some, but not most games). Allow up to an hour a day engaging with these sorts of activities. Discover what your children find interesting, guide them, and keep an eye out to avoid it becoming passive screen time.

Age 10-14
Passive. Be sure to discuss with your children the content they watch as well as the reasons why you restrict the time. By this age you’d expect children to have a good understanding of the effect screen time has on them personally and the reasoning behind the boundaries you place. Encourage them to choose the content they consume carefully and selectively.
Active. As tweens and teens attach huge significance to peer communication, we need to be supportive in their exploration of the media and messaging tools they use to achieve this. At the same time, it’s vital to check in regularly, discuss the potential dangers inherent in online communication (e.g. bullying, grooming, etc.) and provide an example of appropriate use yourself. Promote using screen time for creative purposes (e.g. they could try their hand at animation, or video editing) so long as this doesn’t interfere with other aspects of life.

Age 14-18
Passive. At this stage many teens are independent enough to make most of their own decisions about screen time. At the same time, they’re especially prone to binging on games and shows or investing a lot of their identity in their virtual presence. Keep an eye out for these things and talk regularly about what healthy screen time looks like as well as discussing the content they’re consuming.
Active. Teens should be given a fairly free hand concerning creative screen time unless it hampers the rhythm of their everyday life. Don’t forget to take an interest in how your kids spend time and discuss healthy screen time. This might include learning new skills or coding a website, making digital music or editing pictures, depending on their interests.



Overall, our task as parents is to create positive screen time for our children. Take an active part in managing device usage and promoting healthy habits. Choose the best types of activities to fit your family and you’ll see how your child will benefit from modern technology. In the end, real-life communication and recreational activities cannot be replaced by technology.