Screen Time vs. Active Learning Online: How Much Screen Time for Kids Is Recommended?

Two online school students on their ipads while laying in bed

With many K–12 students enrolling in online school, we’ve seen a corresponding increase in screen time. But should you be worried about how long your child is spending in front of a screen? 

We use screens in most of our everyday activities and in ways that previous generations couldn’t have envisioned. Our K–12 children go to school online, play games online, and meet up with friends and family online.   

How Much Screen Time for Kids Is Recommended?

Most families today can’t completely eliminate screen time. Active learning through screen time can be a beneficial part of your student’s life. Rather than cutting out screen time altogether, there are resources that can help parents reduce screen time for students, and supplement that time with active learning and healthy activities.  

Here are seven guidelines for screen time for students to help give your child an enriching experience with digital media. These tips can help improve your child’s social and emotional well-being, while bringing more balance to their lives. 

A student on her laptop doing homework.

1. Look for high-quality, educational content.

Ideally, your child should engage with educational content that is age-appropriate. When it comes to screen time in schools, math games, typing and trivia apps, science and nature videos, and e-books are some examples of online content that fill kids’ demands for screen time. 

But not all content is created equally. Just because a game says it’s educational doesn’t mean it always delivers on that promise. You may want to read reviews for apps or games to get a sense of how much educational content it includes. For example, the Food and Drug Administration approved a video game for the treatment of ADHD, a move that shows that some online content can be beneficial.  

2. Set screen time limits to make time for healthy activities.

While the AAP says that parents don’t need to sweat over the amount of time older children spend online, parents still may want to set some time limits for screens regardless.  

Taking breaks from screen time to enjoy healthy activities like physical exercise and real-world social activities can help kids live balanced lives.  

Helpful resource: Screen time recommendations by age are available from resources such as the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

3. Reduce screen time by establishing screen-free zones.

Experts suggest creating screen-free zones, like at the dinner table or for an hour before bedtime. These times should be strictly off-limits for tablets, phones, and gaming devices to allow children time to interact with family, wind down for a restful night’s sleep, and overall help to reduce screen time for students.  

Creating screen-free zones is a great solution for families who are concerned about the effects of screen time on children.

A family enjoying screen-free time together.

4. Schedule brain breaks.

Even if your child is spending time with learning apps or taking online courses, you’ll want to schedule brain breaks. Brain breaks are little bursts of time to do an activity away from the computer, such as stretching, tossing a ball, playing or running outside, and more.  

With brain breaks, the idea is to increase students’ focus, improve energy, and boost their mood to help them focus better on schoolwork. And if your child spends a lot of time playing video games or watching TV, going outside for PE activities is a great way to break up the day.

5. Teach children about online privacy.

Talking to children about online privacy is important no matter what their age or experience is with using technology like social media. When you decide to allow your child to spend time online, you may want to have a talk first to prepare your child. There are a lot of resources to help you teach your child about online privacy and safety

6. Go online with your child.

Especially when it comes to screen time for elementary students and younger kids, it’s important to know what your child is viewing and interacting with online. 

To get a sense of the content and the types of socializing your child may be exposed to, it is recommended that parents go online with their children. Find a game that you both can play together or set up the computer in a common area where you can monitor your child’s online activities. This way, you’ll know exactly how your child is spending screen time.  

A parent monitors screen time for her elementary student.

7. Mitigate possible negative effects of screen time on children.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has published that digital eye strain and sleep disruptions can occur from excessive screen use. 

To combat these effects on elementary, middle, or high school students, experts recommend a strategy called the 20-20-20 rule. This rule stands for: every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at an object 20 feet away. This practice can help students take beneficial breaks throughout the day during leisure and classroom screen time. 

Screen Time in Schools

How much time your K–12 student spends online is not as important as how your child is spending that time and the other types of activities your child does during the day. To make the most of your child’s online experience, explore how K-12 online school students socialize. 

Additionally, to help parents guide the amount of time their children should spend online, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published screen time recommendations and a family media plan tool to help families make informed decisions about screen time.  

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