I’m not sure if there is anything my 7-year-old son loves to do more than play Minecraft. When we got a Nintendo Switch for the family over Christmas, my wife and I were worried about screen time, but were pleasantly surprised to see all the built-in parental controls that Nintendo has included.
As a parent who is concerned about the negative impact of screen time on my kids, I’ve seen it as my duty to find ways to limit, control and monitor any technology that my kids interact with. But thinking that way is not very fun for kids or parents. As parents, it’s time we remember that technology can also work for us.
It’s easy to look at the ways technology is coming at our kids like a thunderstorm: nothing we can do about it except hunker down and try to mitigate the problems it can create. But that’s a narrow way to think about it. Not only do we have more control than we think, but technology is also creating more options for us as parents. If our goal is for our kids to be entertained and learn without screens, while it may sound counterintuitive, technology can help us do that.
Screens can be a useful way to entertain or educate our kids, but too much screen time is bad, even when it’s focused on educational outcomes. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health organization recommend children ages 6–10 get no more than 1.5 hours of screen time each day. But 1.5 hours of screen time goes fast when we need to keep our kid engaged every day while we work, make dinner, clean the house or do any of the other thousands of daily responsibilities a parent might have.
But don’t think of technology just in terms of screen time. Technology and technology-enabled companies can help us entertain and educate our kids away from screens. If your child is bored by their Lego creations, try the Brickit app. It will give you step-by-step instructions for new designs based on a picture of a pile of Legos you provide.
If you want to inspire your kids to spend more time outdoors, try the Seek app by iNaturalist. Your kids can earn points by identifying wildlife and plants.
If you want your kids to play with physical toys, try renting toys from companies like Tiny Earth Toys. For older kids, help them create their own toys with a 3D printer.
If you want to nurture the inner scientist, try subscription STEM boxes from companies like Kiwi Crate or CrunchLabs. They’ll be building mini catapults in no time.
Even some of the latest generative AI tools like ChatGPT can work for you to entertain your kids. Not only can they help you brainstorm activity ideas, they are helping companies like mine create engaging and educational activities for kids.
I know what you’re thinking: some of those things cost money. Yes, some do, but there are a lot of screen-free, technology-driven options that don’t. You’re also likely already spending money trying to keep your kids busy with streaming subscriptions, video games and in-app purchases.
If technology is this scary thing that we are always limiting, controlling and monitoring, it could very well make kids want it more, especially when we’re not watching them like hawks. Much like teaching our kids to enjoy healthy foods, let’s embrace technologies that excite kids with less limits, less control and less parental guilt.
If we do, hopefully this will encourage them as teens and adults to continue to embrace a healthy relationship with technology. And remember parents, technology can work for you.
Derek Pando is the CEO of Beeloo, an AI-powered daily alternative to screen time for parents and teachers.