The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its screen time guidelines for children. Now some previously banned, under-age-2 screen time gets a pass: Namely video chatting. While parents of babies may be reveling in approved Skype-ing with grandma, one of the smaller lines in the report turns out to be far more important: For kids 18-24 months, the AAP now approves some screen time provided it’s a shared experience between parents and kids. For kids under 5, the recommendation also leans towards shared, rather than isolated, time with devices.
Shared Screen-Time Benefits
Which brings us to one of what may be the most important word in the updated guidelines: Shared. It’s a term rarely used when it comes to talking about apps, where the discussion is generally geared towards whether they’re dangerous, educational, hidden or “the next big thing.” But it turns out that the notion of shared parent/child screen time may provide the key to increasing positive screen time while minimizing many of its well-documented, extremely negative side-effects.
Since the beginning, kids have needed two things to thrive: Connection and play. The two are not only important on their own, but also as they relate to one another. How you combine the two comes in as many forms as there are families: Maybe it’s pushing them on the swing with your full attention or getting down on the floor with them and letting Legos take you both away. For older kids, this could come in the form of cooking dinner as a team, or enjoying family board game night.
“In a 24/7, technology-immersed world, making time to slow down and simply be present with your child is a priceless investment,” says therapist Diane Reynolds, who is also Program Director of parenting program Reflective Communities. “Even 10-15 minutes once or twice a week can work wonders, as play builds relationships. Shared play activities support development of children’s creativity and exploration, organization, self-regulation, turn-taking, problem solving, coping strategies, and conflict resolution. Solitary gaming won’t build a child’s social emotional circuitry. But contact, conversation, and mutual focus with an engaged parent does, and how.”
So can shared screen time provide yet another source of connection and play? And, unlike the AAP guidelines, can this be beneficial to all kids, not just young ones?
Both research and personal experience have convinced me that both get a resounding yes. After arguing with my children about how much screen time they were consuming, I finally decided to get curious about what they were doing. My son’s passion for Minecraft is nothing I can share. Ever. And I tried. I even had build a vision of our kitchen remodel using the app. While I loved the result, I just couldn’t wake myself from the trance I’d go into anytime he started to explain the difference between Survival and Creative modes.
When Pokemon Go! hit the scene, I prepared for more brain numbing explanations. And then the unexpected: We downloaded the app and I discovered that, yes, this was actually fun. We started taking weekend trips around the city to places we’d never visited in our search for Poke Stops and the like. My son was clearly thrilled to have me participate in the quest with him. After one afternoon spent in a particularly Poke Stop-laden area, he announced, “That is fun!”
Unlike solo screen-time benders at home that leave him cranky and unfocused, our Pokemon Go! outings have the opposite effect: He’s happy, focused and affectionate.
The data supports my experience.
Researchers at the Arizona State University discovered that parents and kids sharing the video game experience cultivated greater family bonding, learning and well-being.
“Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids,” says one of the study’s researchers, Elisabeth Hayes. “Often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving.”
Another study shows that girls in particular benefit from shared screen time with mom and dad. Fascinating research from Brigham Young University has shown that tween and teen girls in particular benefit from playing video games with mom and dad. In a study of 11 to 16 year olds that involved 287 families, it was discovered that girls behave better, feel more connected to their families and have improved mental health when they co-play video games with parents. But the research came with a huge caveat: Those amazing benefits were only seen when the video games were age appropriate.
Apps to Play With Your Kids
So what are appropriate apps that can be shared between kids and parents? Here is a quick guide to some of our top picks.
Grade School, Tweens & Teens: 94%
Similar to Family Feud, 94% asks basic questions (What’s the first thing people do in the morning?) and challenges users to come up with the most common surveyed answers. It’s free with in-app purchases for hints. Keep in mind it comes with lots of annoying ads, but there is some serious fun to be had here.
Grade School: Project Noah
Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife. The app lets kids upload their own photos and observations of nature around them, no matter where they live. Photos can be submitted independently, or kids can join missions to submit specific requested photos and help to document species. Kids can document those backyard squirrels, crows and grasshoppers as well as sightings found in non-urban settings. Great for nature hikes.
Grade School: Lego Movie Maker
Want to take Legos to the next level? Parents and kids create their own stop-motion movies with the intuitively designed app geared towards Lego lovers. Choose graphics, title tracks and sound tracks, then use the app’s camera to capture Lego figures in action. Put it all together and you’ve got a film all your own.
Tweens & Teens: Heads Up!
This became a huge hit and it’s easy to see why. This game is so insanely fun and can easily be played with older kids (although some categories, such as Academy Award Winners, won’t apply). Some dexterity is required to get the hang of it if you’re the one guessing.
Tweens & Teens: Word Bubbles
This game is so immediately engaging. You swipe and connect letters to find hidden words. It gets harder and harder as you go and is best played together. So much fun! Free with in app purchases to buy hints (which you’ll probably need at a certain point).
Here’s everything you need to make top-notch at-home movies that have a professional feel. With eight themes (including fairytales, horror movies and family flicks), each comes with titles, transitions and soundtracks that carry that concept through. Use your own videos and photos, write your own credits and title tracks, record your own voice-over — this app gives you all the tools needed to become a budding Spielberg in your own right. (Parents of younger kids can try Video Star.)
Have a favorite app that you love to play with your kid? Let us know!