Published on March 31, 2021

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

The dreaded screen time debate can feel like a never-ending battle. Kids want more of it, but parents want them to have less. So much of our lives involve technology that it’s almost impossible to avoid. We now rely on it for learning and social interaction, not just for fun.

It can be hard to find the right balance or even know what “balanced” looks like. The negativity surrounding kids and screen time adds to the guilt and uncertainty. How much is too much? At what point is it harmful?

Maybe it’s time for some good news that could help set your mind at ease. New studies show that technology might not be as bad for your kids as initially thought, and it’s the quality—not the quantity—of screentime that really counts.

What Do We Know About the Effects of Screen Time on Kids?

Parents aren’t alone because even scientists are torn about this topic. It might sound like there’s solidarity on the topic, but that’s not the case.[1] Many psychologists disagree with the conclusions formed from the available studies.

Why? Research hasn’t been extensive enough, the results are conflicting, and there’s little proof that screentime is the actual cause of behavioral and mental problems.[2]

A Lack of Research

Technology is relatively new. There hasn’t been enough time to do long-term conclusive studies. Unfortunately, time isn’t the only issue. It’s hard to find parents that would allow a mandatory six hours of screentime a day or say, none at all, for an extended period.

There are other problems as well. Much of the research is correlational, cross-sectional, or based on self-report. Studies have relied on the parent’s and child’s observations and feelings, leading to a greater risk for biased and skewed data.[3]

Conflicting Results and New Information

How many times have you heard that screen time can disrupt a child’s sleep? Or that too much screentime can make your child moody or depressed? While based on previous studies and accepted as truth, researchers are now coming to other conclusions.

How much are a child’s mood and sleep actually affected?


One recent study found that sleep disruption in children is minimal—on average, only 3 to 8 minutes less per hour of screen time.[4]. Some kids may be more sensitive than others, so know what your child can handle. Using a blue light blocker can help, along with cutting off screentime one hour before bed. Overall, it’s more beneficial to focus on a bedtime routine and a consistent wake-up time.

How about the effects on moodiness? According to a study, it would take over five hours of device-based screen time before caregivers or parents notice an increase in psychosocial functioning.[5]

Does It Cause Depression and Anxiety?

The link between screen time and a child’s or teen’s mental health is also being questioned. Studies have not produced consistent results and fail to show a causal relationship, leaving researchers to question the correlation.[6][7]

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Likewise, is an adolescent struggling with mental health issues because of too much screentime? Or is the child using more screentime because of mental health issues? Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Kids dealing with depression and anxiety might simply be more likely to over-use their phones.[8]

Why Quality Over Quantity Is the New Focus

Screen time is often lumped into one category, but researchers are finding that it’s not all equal. The subject goes deeper than a simple “good” or “bad.”

Think of it as food. Not all food affects the body the same way. Some things are highly beneficial, others just a little, and some are detrimental or even harmful.

Time has to be taken into account as well. Eating a few cookies one day is different than eating a few cookies multiple times a day, every day, for years. Short-term effects are not nearly as concerning as the long-term changes that can take place.[9]

So, what kind of screentime is the “healthier” choice? It’s broken down into two categories: active and passive.[10]

Active Screen Time

Interactive programs and games will engage the brain and cause the child to think. It can be video games, videos, chatting, active learning apps, or anything that encourages thought, creativity, and problem-solving skills.


Passive Screen Time

This is the idle time when the child “vegges out” doing things like scrolling through social media and watching shows or movies. These things can still be enjoyed once in a while but need to be done in moderation. It’s this passive screentime that can negatively affect children.[11]

It’s Not Always Black and white

This makes it easy, right? Wrong. It is easier to make decisions based on whether screentime is active or passive, but it doesn’t end there. Sometimes, a game or video might look educational but offer little value.

Likewise, something might look like idle time but be highly educational. Navigating through this complex topic is impossible without considering quality, but it takes determination and time to dig deeper.[12]

The Surprising Benefits of Screen Time for Kids

Kids are surrounded by technology and are bound to interact with it, despite the negative attention it draws. Being aware of the positives can help you find balance. What are some ways kids benefit from active screen time?

Video games

Video games have a bad reputation and are often considered a waste of time, but they can fall into the active category. The benefits vary depending on the video game, but most are associated with the following:

  • Visual processing
  • Attention
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Spatial processing
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Self-direction
  • Social interaction
  • Discovery

Educational Programs

Some shows might be marketed as educational but fall short in reality. However, most strive to provide quality content for kids and help with the following:[13]

  • Literacy
  • Color, number, and letter recognition
  • Imagination
  • Character development
  • Exposure to places and cultures

Technology use can also help a child become tech-savvy—an invaluable skill for the future. Kids are better at adapting to new things. Growing up with technology gives them the chance to become familiar with it while learning self-regulation.

When Active Screen Time Isn’t Good Enough

Children under two need more than interactive games and videos. Their symbolic, memory, and attention skills are not mature enough to learn from digital media. They are unable to transfer what’s on the screen to real life. At this age, a child’s cognitive, language, motor, social, and emotional skills are developed through personal interactions and hands-on play.

This doesn’t mean young kids should never have screentime, but it should be minimal and used as a time to connect.[14][15]


The Negative Impact of Screen Time

Of course, there needs to be a balance. While screen time might not be bad, there are still plenty of potential problems to be aware of. Often the negatives are listed as if they stand alone when they are usually symptoms of underlying issues.

What’s one of the biggest problems? Screentime takes away from real-life activities.

Obesity, moodiness, sleep-deprivation, and lack of concentration become issues when screentime replaces healthy habits and activities. It’s not the technology that’s dangerous but what we allow it to replace. Kids are less active, staying up too late, and distracted because of it. Adults are guilty of this, too.

However, parents shouldn’t throw out current advice regarding screentime. It’s too soon to know the long-term effects, but there’s wisdom in moderation. Kids should be encouraged to play, be active, and even be bored. Boredom is a precursor to creativity.

“We have to be flexible enough to evolve with the technology but choose how to use it right. Fire was a great discovery to cook our food, but we had to learn it could hurt and kill as well, ” said Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, associate professor of pediatrics at HMS, and associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.[16]

Children and teens can learn to self-regulate by paying attention to how they feel. Everyone can learn to “unplug” by taking inventory of their time, focusing on goals, and finding real-life adventures.

What to Do When You Think There Is an Addiction

Does your child get upset when you try to take away the tablet or phone? Does your child want to use it often and seem to prefer it? Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean there’s an addiction. It could be a matter of frustration.

Children, like adults, can have a hard time suddenly switching tasks. Interruptions can be upsetting, so let your child ease into it. Give a five or ten-minute “warning” that time is almost up. Talk to them, drawing them out of their “zone” to help ease the transition.

What if that doesn’t work? What if screentime starts to cause more significant problems?


8 Signs of Screen Dependency Disorder

Naturally, addiction is a concern for parents as they watch their children stare mindlessly at a screen and become angry when it’s time to turn it off. If you think your child struggles with control, here’s what to look for, according to Neurohealth Associates:[17]

  • Preoccupation
  • Withdrawal
  • Increased tolerance
  • Failure to reduce or stop screentime
  • Loss of other interests
  • Continues despite negative consequences
  • Lying about use
  • Uses to escape adverse moods

Screen Dependency Disorder and Your Child’s Health

This disorder can negatively impact your child’s health, both short and long-term. What are some of the problems it can cause?

Short-Term Health Problems

  • insomnia
  • back pain
  • weight gain or loss
  • vision problems
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • dishonesty
  • feelings of guilt and loneliness
  • aggression

Long-Term Health Problems

When addicted, a child’s brain will lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula over time. How does that specifically affect behavior and growth? This tissue loss can cause a child to struggle with:

  • Planning and organization
  • Suppressing socially unacceptable impulses
  • Developing compassion and empathy
  • Speech

7 Steps to Help Break the Screen Time Cycle

Real addiction is rare, but there will probably be a time when your child needs a detox.[18] You might decide there needs to be less screentime overall, or maybe everyone needs a break. How can you make this transition easier? After all, no one wants unnecessary drama.[19]

  1. Create a plan. Talk with your child(ren), discuss concerns, and get everyone’s feedback.
  2. Pick a start date. Set a future date, giving children time to accept the plan.
  3. Make a list of alternative things to do. Be prepared for the inevitable “I’m bored.” Bins of toys, games, crafts, and books can encourage play.
  4. Keep devices out of sight. There will be less temptation if they’re out of view.
  5. Play with your child. Some kids need a boost, and your involvement will make them want to play even more.
  6. Be a good role model. Kids will mimic your behavior, so limit your own screentime.
  7. Create new routines. Kids often use screentime out of habit. Find the times your child is most likely to use it, and help fill in that space with something else.

How to Find a Balance That’s Right for Your Family

Families are different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. Don’t feel like you have to base your guidelines around what others do. You know your kids better than anyone.

Here are a few tips for finding the right balance. Remember, you will probably need to make adjustments as your kids grow.

  • Be involved. Kids learn more when a parent or caregiver is actively engaging with them during screen time. It’s a great way to connect with your child. Plus, you’ll know what they’re watching and playing, giving you better insight and control.
  • Have tech-free zones and times. This might be while eating, before bed, or after school. Find specific times and places where screen time is not allowed. Choose what works best for your family’s schedule.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Forcing the brain to do multiple things at once results in poor quality work. Encourage kids to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Teach awareness and self-regulation. Teach your child the difference between active and passive screentime. Help them become aware of their feelings while playing games or watching programs.
  • Give them some control. It seems counter-intuitive, but this will teach them responsibility and diminish the feeling that screen time is “special.” If it’s used as a reward or treat, kids will only want it more.[20] Normalize screentime, and kids will get bored with it after a while.
  • Get expert advice. Many helpful resources can help you set up a plan for your family.[21] Know the current policies and recommendations stated by pediatricians and psychologists.[22]

Remember, no one knows your child as you do. Balance and control will come naturally if you set a good example, stay involved, and find alternative family activities.

Featured photo credit: Patricia Prudente via


[1] Sage Journals: Do Policy Statements on Media Effects Faithfully Represent the Science?
[2] OECDiLibrary: Impacts of technology use on children, exploring literature on the brain, cognition, and well-being
[3] American Psychological Association: What Do We Really Know About Kids And Screens?
[4] Journal of Pediatrics: Digital Screentime and Pediatric Sleep
[5] Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: How Much Is Too Much? Examining the Relationship Between Digital Screen Engagement and Psychosocial Functioning in a Confirmatory Cohort Study
[6] Sage Journals: Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use, and Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages
[7] Nature: Human Behavior: The Association Between Adolescent Well-being and Digital Technology Use
[8] Slate: What Does A Screen Do?
[9] NCBI: Children Wired- For Better And For Worse
[10] Sage Journals: Active versus Passive Screentime for Young Children
[11] Sustain Health Magazine: What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Screentime for Teens?
[12] Biomed Central: Type of screen time moderates effects on outcomes in 4013 children
[13] Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine: The Ubiquity of the Screen: An Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Screen Time in Our Modern World
[14] Pediatrics: Media And Young Minds
[15] SRCD: Memory Constraints on Infant Learning From Picture Books, Television, and Touchscreens
[16] Harvard Medical School: Screentime and the Brain
[17] NHAHealth: Screen Dependency Disorder: The Effects of ‘Screen Time’ Addiction
[18] Common Sense Media: What Parents Need to Know About Technology Addiction
[19] Simply Snapping: The 7 Step Method to Save Your Kids from Screen Addiction
[20] American Psychological Association: What do we really know about kids and screens?
[21] Family Media Plan
[22] American Academic of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Screen Time and Children

More by this author

Adrienne Koziol

Adrienne is an educator, blogger, and mother of 9. She loves to help people reach their goals in relationships, health, and life.

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.


Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.


7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.


14. Meditation


is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.


Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via


[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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