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Digital Swiss Army Knives: Screen time just isn’t what it used to be!

Digital Swiss Army Knives: Screen time just isn’t what it used to be!

Who else remembers being 6 years old and waking up super early in the morning to watch cartoons? If you’re like me it was the Smurfs, He-Man, and She-Ra. My brother and I would happily sit in front of the TV until our parents woke up and we started our day.

Back then, before the internet age, screen time meant one thing. Television….and maybe the occasional movie theatre.

Today, however, it means a lot more.

Over the years, the definition of screen time has expanded to include computers and mobile devices whose use permeates every facet of our daily experiences. The Canadian Pediatric Society defines screen time as “time spent on any screen, including smartphones, tablets, television, video games, computers or wearable technology.” Certainly, a definition that has changed since I was a child.

Screens that were once a tool solely for entertainment are now like digital swiss army knives in our pockets. They do it all. And because of this changing definition of what screens can do, we need to adjust our opinions of what screen time means.

The American Association of Pediatrics adjusted their screen time guidelines in 2016 with the following recommendations:

AAP Screen Time Recommendations

Made by @TanyaLeClair with Picktochart and images from

These new recommendations reflected the reality that “children and adolescents are growing up immersed in media. This includes platforms that allow users to both consume and create content, including broadcast and streamed television and movies, sedentary and active video games, social and interactive media that can be creative and engaging, and even highly immersive virtual reality.”

A Common Sense Media Census looked at the evolution of media patterns in children ages zero to eight between 2011 and 2017. They found that “kids ages 8 and under spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes a day with screen media, roughly the same as in prior years. Where they spend that time, however, has changed dramatically.” TV is still the most popular use of screen time, but mobile device use is fast becoming the media of choice for children. In 2011 kids spent an average of 5 minutes a day using mobile devices, but since then that number has increased 10 fold to roughly 48 minutes a day.

Because of this change in the definition of what screen time is, we should ensure that we are not painting it with the same brush as our parents likely did. It is no longer a sedentary activity where you stare directly at a screen, but rather an opportunity to take part in a range of interactive activities.

In a recent meeting with parents at my school, I shared the different definitions of what screen time can look like for children. Passive screen time is browsing the internet, scrolling mindlessly through social media, and watching videos. Active or interactive screen time, however, involves different forms of creation, learning new skills, and communicating with others.

When thinking about screen time, it’s not the amount of time spent on a device that we should be focusing on…but rather the quality of that time. Activities that promote creativity and sharing should be encouraged, and if a digital device enables that to happen then it can be considered a valuable use of screen time.

One handy way to evaluate if screen time is quality or not is to ask yourself if the app or activity falls into the 4C’s. The 4C’s of Learning and Innovation are part of a framework developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. They outline how we can best prepare students for complex life and work environments in the 21st century. The 4C’s are:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

Now, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t time for media that is silly and fun. We all need downtime and should enjoy how we use screens. But this is a guideline for choosing apps that may provide a little of both.

I also created the graphic below for parents and teachers to use when choosing apps that align with the 4C’s. Just like choosing the best tool from a swiss army knife, making the most of our screen time is something we can all work towards.

Making the Most of your Screen Time

Made by @TanyaLeClair with Canva


American Association of Pediatrics (2016, October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. retrieved from

Canadian Pediatric Society (2017, November 27). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Retrieved from

Common Sense Media (2017, October 18). The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017. Retrieved from

McCarthy, A. (2018, April 17). Exploring healthy digital options: The benefits of balanced screen time. UWCSEA Perspectives. Retrieved from

Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2016, January). Framework for 21st-century learning. Retrieved from

Featured Image: Made by Tanya LeClair with Canva

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