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Customizing the Screen Time Portfolio

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Part 1: Screen Time

“Screen Time” is a huge topic of discussion and often times a sore point for families these days. Most parents aren't sure how to approach this because there is an endless amount of contradiction in terms of what is considered best practice. On one side, "experts" tell us that screens basically rot the brain, while "experts" on the other side of the argument call for as much screen time as we can give our kids to prepare for the future. Now that we are immersed in a situation in which we will need to facilitate learning from home on a large scale for an indefinite amount of time, I wanted to provide a snapshot of some of the ways in which you can manage screen time in an educational and cognitive context.

Just like there are no true widespread rules for everyone regarding nutrition (since we are all biochemically individual) there are no hard and fast rules for how kids learn best or for educational levers like screen time because every learner is also unique. Screen time can be divided into a variety of categories but let’s just use production and consumption time as our primary foci. I find that parents typically try to limit consumption time and promote production time but sometimes the line between the two can be blurred. YouTube and Netflix, for example, have replaced television watching to a large extent these days, and that can actually be beneficial (Below I am including the steps to enter into the back end of the Netflix database to build a library of shows and documentaries that you think could be valuable on the consumption side for the kids...and yourself). Let's start with a general look at some of the ways the kids consume media first.


Consumption (This includes watching and listening):

1) YouTube/Twitch: My son (Sam) watches some things for Minecraft videos or gaming vids and he’s not alone. The video game streaming site was purchased by Amazon a few years ago for nearly one billion dollars. While we don’t hear about the cognitive benefits of playing and watching games and eSports in the mainstream media, there is plenty of research out there to confirm them.

Sam also watches things like Ants Canada because he loves studying ants. This is really a personal decision per family, but YouTube can be a phenomenal educational resource. Just keep the device logged into YOUR Gmail account and you will be able to track the entire history of vids your child sees. Block channels that are inappropriate or just subscribe to channels that are "approved" by you and limit watching to those channels. Examples of channels that I personally enjoy for their educational and entertainment values are:

Some of My Favorites:

2) (Some free vids, but a subscription is needed for site-wide access). Find out from your child's school or district if they have a license to gain you free access.

3) Netflix: First, go to the Netflix site and log in. To access the "hidden" netflix content.. visit this link. To see the Science and Nature category for example.. You'd go here.

Basically, there is a master link:

and you simply change the "xxxx" to the 4 or 5 digit code attached to the genre or category you want to browse from the link above. Once you see something you want the kids to watch, you click on it and then hit the plus sign to "add it to your library.” Now you can limit the kids to watching the "my list" vids in either their profile or yours..however you want to set it up.

3a) As an add-on, take a look at

They have some cool questions that allow you to “Turn Any Movie Into a Learning Opportunity” (their tagline).

4) Outschool: “Where Kids Love Learning” (We can call this interactive consumption).

I don’t have much experience using Outschool as a resource with students but I have some friends who have used it with their kids. If nothing else, there are lots of options as there are over 10,000 small group-chat video classes!


Production (This includes apps and games where there is strategy, engineering, higher-order thinking, codebreaking, designing and other active brain processes happening...this is not a complete list.)

1) Apps and Games:


Hybrid: Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Multiplayer Games

Fortnite and similar games aren't really strictly one thing or the other. There is a great deal of strategy and ingenuity involved and both watching and playing can also be as entertaining as watching Saturday morning cartoons in 1982. There is weaponry involved though so like many other things, this is a family decision. For games like these, I limit my son's time to anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour per day on school days. He gets to have more screen time overall though, as I like to mix up the different types. As long as he is balancing time with friends, outdoor time, indoor non-screen time and indoor-screen time, he can have 2+ hours of screen time per day with extra on weekends or rainy days. One of the most entertaining moments I’ve had with students was tasking them with teaching me to play Fortnite in real-time. We entered the game together and they needed to keep my character alive. They were only allowed to give verbal instructions and could not commandeer my controller.

One game my students and I love is Mushroom Wars 2. There is a campaign-style quest that can be tackled over time and you can also set up matches against people from around the world. We also sometimes play each other in 1v1 (One versus one) matches at home. There are a ton of games out there like this, so again, choose something that both you and your child are interested in or have them teach you how to play a game they love to play.

Another favorite of mine is a game that requires two players and provides a similar type of user communication interaction is:

Without giving away any major spoilers, to win as the person defusing the bomb, you will need to describe in incredible detail and at incredible pace what you’re seeing on the screen. Then you’ll have to follow the instructions given to you by your teammates, and hope they got it right. Potentially working fast to flip the bomb over or read off additional information. The cognitive load can pile up fast, which just makes it more fun and exhilarating. As the bomb-tech with the instruction manual, you’ll have to take in information and quickly parse what type of puzzle you’re dealing with (there are a good variety); then, you’ll have to find that section of the instruction manual in your packet. Once you understand the parameters of the specific puzzle, you’ll have some decoding or matching to do and then will have to intelligibly (easier typed than done) relay that information to your partner without any visual aids.


Below is a sample chart.. It is customizable. For instance, maybe one child has more interest in games like Fortnite than they do in watching shows right now. They could easily spend 50% of their Screen Time allowance on Fortnite and the other 50% on a blend of Educational Production items. That is totally up to the parent. At the end of the day, the most important thing to have is communication and rules that are in place because they make sense. Be upfront and direct regarding the rules and communicate expectations in a straightforward way with your child(ren). Screen time will become a friend rather than a foe.

Thanks for reading!

Coming Soon: Part 2: Board Games and Card Games

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