Not all screen time is created equal. Learn how to prioritize quality, learning, and social connection on the computer, tablet, phone, and TV.
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The dangers of screen time are well-documented and well-known, i.e. too much screen time can cause developmental delays and/or have social implications. Behavioral problems may also arise, particularly in children who spend two hours a day (or more) on the TV, computer, tablet, or phone. And there are physical effects, too. Too much screen time can lead to eye strain, pain, and childhood obesity. In short, there are inherent risks. But there are benefits as well. Yes, screen time can actually be a good thing.

According to an October 2019 study out of Oxford, Cardiff, and Cambridge Universities, screen time in moderation can have a positive effect on kids. Watching television or using digital devices can actually increase one's social and emotional well-being.

"In light of our findings, calls for blanket technology bans and age restrictions on technology access do not constitute evidence-based or indeed ethical advice, particularly as screen usage in some cases has a net positive impact," said Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, in a release. What's more, a July 2020 report from the nonprofit Common Sense Media, suggested that parents should focus more on what their kids are consuming and less on how many hours they're logging.

"All screen use is not equal," Michael Robb, an author of the report and senior director of research at Common Sense Media, told CNN. This became particularly apparent in the height of the pandemic, when children were using computers to attend class and interact with their peers. Below are five benefits of screen time.

Improves Socialization

While it may seem counterintuitive, screen time can actually improve your child's social and emotional wellbeing. According to Internet Matters, "technology takes away physical barriers to social connections—which is important for children who find it hard to make friends or have special interests or special needs." It can be used for both conversations and play. My daughter video called her friends in early 2020, when lockdowns forced her (and many children) to stay home. They held tea parties and playdates over the web. And social media platforms can foster a sense of community and connectedness.

Apps like The Social Express II, Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are, and Sit With Us have been designed to help kids social development.

Enhances Critical Thinking

Not all apps and video games are created equal. That's a fact. But did you know some actually encourage learning and enhance critical thinking skills? "A lot of these games won't even feel like learning," says Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media. "But parents know time playing is time well spent with puzzles and games that challenge kids to experiment and find creative ways to solve problems."

Can Promote School Readiness

From educational games and apps to digital books—or e-books—screens can promote school readiness. Some television programs even encourage reading, spelling, math skills, and writing. And while the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend screen usage for children 18 months, high-quality apps and programs can be a great learning tool.

"[If you] want to introduce digital media, [you] should choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with [your] children, because this is how toddlers learn best," an article on Healthy Children explains. "Co-view or co-play with your children, and find other activities for to do together that are healthy for the body and mind."

Helps With the Development of Fine Motor Skills

Working with and on computers and playing video games can help your child improve their hand-eye coordination, Internet Matters explains. "Interacting with computers improves both visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination," the website states. It also affects their coordination.

"Playing video games can improve motor skills," Nemours Children's Health adds.

Encourages Literacy and Communication

While it may seem odd to suggest that screens can (and do) improve literacy and communication skills, it's true. E-books improve our reading proficiency. They also give us access to a wide and varied library, larger than most could have in their home. Texting during the pandemic helped my daughter learn to read and spell. And various apps and computer programs encourage communication, from emails and notes to messaging, Word, and Google Docs.

That said, it's still important to balance time in front of the computer with other activities. Sitting in front of the TV or staring at your phone all the time is not good or healthy. It can have adverse effects. So, what exactly can parents do to ensure their kids are consuming quality content? Be involved, be aware of how your children are engaging with digital media, and try to help your kids find a balance of online and offline activities. Experts recommend following the "Three C's": Child, content, and context. That is, you know what's best for your child, but you can also try to help them prioritize quality content—which, by the way, Common Sense Media has loads of recommendations for.