., click here to enter for a chance to win one of our many $50 gift cards we are giving away.

Learn more

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

How to Use Screen Time Productively

., you're logged in!
Enjoy this resource and share our programs with your school district to send these resources to your whole community
Tell Your School District About Our Program
., you're logged in!
Share this resource with a parent at .  (or visit our new sharing center)
., you're logged in!
Enjoy this demo pass. Click the button to share access with leaders in your school district (or visit our new sharing center)
Share Your Demo Pass With School District Leaders

Become a member or login to learn more on this topic

Superintendents, Directors and Principals: Request a partnership on this page to unlock our resources for your whole community.
June 3, 2024

Become a member or log in to learn more on this topic

Superintendents, Directors and Principals: Request a partnership on this page to unlock our resources for your whole community.
Quotation marks

This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

StarStarStarStarStar

Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

StarStarStarStarStar

Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

Quotation marks

This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

StarStarStarStarStar

Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

How to Use Screen Time Productively

., you're logged in!
Enjoy this resource and share our programs with your school district to send these resources to your whole community
Tell Your School District About Our Program
., you're logged in!
Share this resource with a parent at .  (or visit our new sharing center)
., you're logged in!
Enjoy this demo pass. Click the button to share access with leaders in your school district (or visit our new sharing center)
Share Your Demo Pass With School District Leaders

As parents and educators, we recognize the dual nature of screen time—while it can be a powerful tool for learning and creativity, too much screen time also has the potential to be a source of negative behavior and wasted hours. Encouraging productive screen time use while setting limits on less valuable activities is a balancing act many of us strive to perfect. 

To help you navigate this challenge, we turned to experts for their top tips on guiding students toward meaningful screen time. From learning to code and creating stories to joining positive online communities and discovering passions, these insights offer practical ways to make screen time both educational and enjoyable. This SmartSocial guide will help parents explore how to turn screen time into an opportunity for growth and development for their children.

Assessing the value of your screen time

(Dialogue Starters for Parents)

  • How do you feel after your screen time?
  • Does that app or online activity make you feel stronger or weaker after 1 hour?
  • What screen time activities or apps make you feel stronger?
  • What activities make you feel more focused and relaxed?

How can positive screen time help you be productive?

Active screen time helps you accomplish your goals

  • Learn a language
  • Teach yourself programming
  • Become the best player on your team
  • Learn how to cook delicious new recipes
  • Explore digital art and design
  • Use programs like GarageBand to create music tracks
  • Virtually travel the world with tools like Google Earth or by watching YouTube travel videos
  • Listen to podcasts about something you are interested in

Use screen time to learn important skills

  • Be mindful about who you subscribe to so your feed is filled with fun and productive tips that can help you improve both your mental and physical health
  • Learn how to master a skill you are interested in
  • Explore new hobbies and find out what you need to do to get started
  • Discover creative projects and science experiments
  • Teach yourself how to 3D print and learn what tools you need
  • Learn what you need to do to get into your dream college

1. Help your child find a passion to focus on

Mateo Chaney-Martinez headshot
Mateo Chaney-Martinez

Mateo Chaney-Martinez, Founder and CEO, Smart Start University

For parents who want to reduce their kids' screen time—or at least encourage them to use it more productively—I recommend leading them towards passion, not away from screens. By emphasizing the benefit of passion, rather than highlighting detriment of screen time, parents are more likely to influence their teens towards positive and constructive actions.

In a more tangible sense, parents can engage their teens in a dialogue about what they want in life. Don’t ask them to be reasonable—explore what they would want to do if they knew they couldn’t fail. Whether that be what they end up pursuing or not, such unhindered discussions will reveal passions—and, if you can help your teen recognize and begin moving towards a passion, the reduced screen time happens naturally.

Don’t drive your teens away from screens. Drive them towards passion.

2. Learn to code, write a story, learn to type

Alexandra Fung headshot
Alexandra Fung

Alexandra Fung, CEO, Upparent

There are many great online resources that are available to kids and families for both education and entertainment. Our tween and teen have, for the most part, embraced online activities that have allowed them to dive more deeply into their personal interests, as well as develop new ones - even some that they share! 

Google Docs has long been a favorite way for them to spend time creating stories which they share with one another, and even co-author with friends as a great virtual playdate opportunity. The coding platform, Scratch, has also been a great resource for fun and learning, as they create fun games (that lead to lots of shared laughs!) and learn valuable coding skills in the process.

Another favorite educational screen time option we recently discovered is Zooniverse, a platform that facilitates people-powered research so that anybody can contribute to real scientific research in a variety of fields. Finally, typing games have been a good way for both to develop crucial keyboarding skills using gameplay to make it fun, not work.

3. Help your child find the purpose to their screen time so they stop using it as a pastime

Josh Ochs

Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com

Teach your students to use social media to show off their school projects, hobbies, volunteer work, or family photos. When kids see that they can use screen time in a positive way, they are less likely to waste time using it aimlessly. Consider working WITH your student to determine 3 things they want to be known for when colleges or employers search for them online.

Sit down with your child and have them make a list of any school projects, volunteering activities, or internships they want to showcase online. For parents of children younger than 14, work with them to create a repository of their achievements that they can one day share on social media. Save positive photos, project descriptions, relevant links, and teacher recommendations in a folder -- this will become content they share on social media when they’re ready.

4. Listen to a podcast

kitty felde headshot
Kitty Felde

Kitty Felde, Executive Producer, Book Club for Kids podcast

Use Your Ears! There are dozens and dozens of podcasts crafted just for kids of all ages. Science podcasts (Brains On), history podcasts (The Past and the Curious), ethics podcasts (Short & Curly), and literary podcasts like my own, Book Club for Kids.

Podcasts can be listened to on any digital device. They allow students to create their own pictures in their minds, sparking imagination. In addition, listening is a skill unto itself. Some of us are audio learners naturally, but for other kids, removing the visual stimuli allows them to exercise their ears.

5. Take online classes, virtual tours, or read a book digitally

Katie Mills headshot
Katie Mills

Katie Mills, VP of Product, Circle

According to the CDC, teens spend on average 7.5 hours a day watching entertainment passively on screen. This time and attention could be spent learning a new skill or pursuing a creative passion. How can we steer our kids toward more creative and informative digital endeavors and a more balanced digital life?

There are plenty of ways to foster that passion with online classes, podcasts, apps, books, and virtual tours. Inspire your artist to draw digitally, your aspiring chef to learn from a master, and for all kids to spend their extra time online reaching their creative capacity. 

100+ Online Educational Activities for Students

6. Complete important tasks before screen time

Elyse Hudacsko, Author

Elyse Hudacsko headshot
Elyse Hudacsko

During the year, when kids are busy with school and extracurricular activities, there is little time to zone out on their phones for more than a few minutes in the car.

But over the summer, there is freedom and a lack of structure and kids tend to want to fill a lot of their free time with their cell phones, tablets, and laptops. While some of the uses of technology are great for helping students learn and grow, there are plenty of other uses that provide no value and should be limited.

In an attempt to keep your child’s summer free and unstructured, avoid implementing technology “rules” or “tracking”, instead set technology “guidelines”. This allows for the productive use of screen time as opposed to using it as a pastime while letting kids be in charge of how they spend their time.

In my house, I have asked that 85% of their day be spent on things that help them grow and strengthen-both their physical and mental health. Activities like being out in nature, creating, doing something physical, taking care of themselves and others, engaging with friends, learning, and just being. This would be ten hours per day, five of which can be spent using technology and five that are spent without.

Some of the ways parents can encourage their kids to use technology productively are:

  • Using a drawing app
  • Making a video
  • Coding
  • Writing
  • Taking an online class
  • Facetime with a friend
  • Talking to a friend on the phone
  • Watching a movie or TV show with friends or family
  • Exploring a topic that interests them (videos, articles, groups),
  • Playing brain games
  • Listening to music

To avoid hearing “I’m bored”, here are some suggestions for how kids can spend their technology-free time:

  • Going for a walk
  • Going to the beach
  • Doing art on paper
  • Journaling
  • Singing
  • Acting
  • Dancing
  • Crafts
  • Building projects
  • Walking or hiking
  • Swimming
  • Cooking
  • Organizing their room
  • Getting together with friends
  • Writing to their penpal
  • Reading a book
  • Taking a class
  • Playing a game
  • Doing a puzzle

The other 15% of their day, which equates to about two hours, can be spent on activities that do not provide any growth value like social media apps, playing video games and watching YouTube videos and TV shows.

I also ask that before my kids pick up any technology they:

  • Make their bed
  • Get dressed (unless it is an agreed pajama day)
  • Eat breakfast and clean up
  • Straighten their rooms
  • Take care of any laundry

And, I have tried to get them into the habit of asking “What else could I be doing?” before they absentmindedly pick up their phone.

These guidelines have been a win-win for me and my family and if you adapt them to your own beliefs about screen time they can be a win-win for your family too!

7. Join like-minded groups and follow positive people online

Shipra Batra headshot
Shipra Batra

Shipra Batra, Founder, Shipra’s SAT and Creative Writing Classes, LLC

Telling your kids to not be on their devices is like fighting a losing battle. In fact, I will suggest you do not do that, as it will create more yearning for the digital goodies. The kids will be on their digital devices anyway, so why not turn it around on them. Based on their interests, make them join a social media group where they engage with like-minded people.

Instead of forming an online community of gamers, encourage your kids to subscribe and like the channels and pages of their role models. Nothing substantial, but at least they will be fed useful information which will also register on their subconscious.

When something worthwhile shows up on their feed regularly, and over a period of time, students will gain valuable information, which can be used in a variety of positive ways.

8. Meet your students where they are

Laura Braziel headshot
Laura Braziel

Laura Braziel, MMFT, LPC, LMFT, Counselor & Therapist

Parents should examine their own screen time first

Parents set the example in their home through their actions. If a parent spends significant amounts of time behind a screen, be it for work or entertainment, what is observed by their kids will set a standard for the role of screens in their home. If there is very little family engagement, it doesn’t offer much motivation for a child to put away the screen since the screen fills the gap in time.

Balance face-to-face time with virtual time

I encourage parents to assist their kids in balancing face-to-face social interactions with virtual interactions. The more time kids spend on screens, the less social skills they develop and the lonelier they can become. Screen time could be useful for school work, planning activities, and some entertainment, but there needs to be a healthy balance of in-person experiences too, whether it be family meal times, weekend outdoor activities, or friend get-togethers.

Set up parental controls and talk about them

Parental controls are a healthy safety precaution on devices, but parents should also talk about the various influences and temptations on the internet and the importance of setting up parental controls. Otherwise, kids may view the controls as simply a “control tactic” and therefore, rebel. Setting up controls is a great opportunity to talk about the process of building trust and responsibility with screens and outside influences. As trust and responsibility are gained, controls can become more flexible.

Ask questions

I strongly encourage parents to engage in screen time with their kids and ask how the apps, games, etc. work and why their kids enjoy them. This is an example of meeting your child where they are rather than telling them what to do. This gives parents insight into their children’s perspective so they have more influence later.

Keep conversations open-ended and ongoing

Above all, I strongly encourage parents to respect the opinions of their kids and keep conversations open on all topics. Screens have the power to expand experiences and if kids are not emotionally ready, those experiences could negatively impact them. When parents initiate and maintain an open dialogue, they are in a better position to influence and intervene as necessary.

9. Promote creativity rather than consumption

Douglas Brennan headshot
Douglas Brennan

Doug Brennan, Parenting and Safety Expert with Kiwi Searches

Use screen time to promote creativity rather than consumption. There are some great coding apps available that can be used to develop critical thinking skills, foster creativity, help with math skills, and build an aptitude for organization and problem-solving abilities. Coding is a highly desirable skill set, and apps like Treehouse, Mimo, Spritebox, and Tynker allow you to build websites and apps, build puzzles, automate tasks, and get ready for a dream job.

Setting parental controls to block adult content and limit excessive screen time on your child's smartphone or tablet can be done easily and for free with an add on filter. This can be done directly from Chrome or sites like YouTube which need restrictions with how easily accessible video content is in your child's hands. For more hands on monitoring and to access to your child's social media messaging, GPS location, and setting screen time, use a parental control software.

More YouTube safety advice:YouTube and Tweens: Tips for Families to Use YouTube Safely

Additional resources

Positive Impact of Social Media & Screen Time

The Impact of Screen Time on Motivation

Using YouTube to Explore Colleges and Careers

Can YouTube Help a Student's Online Reputation?

Conclusion

Screen time doesn't have to be a battleground in our homes. By guiding our children towards productive and meaningful online activities, we can harness the potential of technology to enrich their lives. Whether through coding, writing, engaging with positive communities, or discovering new passions, we can help our children use their screen time wisely. As parents, fostering an environment that balances screen time with offline experiences, maintaining open dialogues, and setting clear guidelines can make all the difference. Turning screen time into a tool for growth, creativity, and learning, ensures our children develop the skills and habits they need to thrive in the digital age.

Logged in and still not seeing content? This course may not be part of
your membership plan. Click here to join.

Superintendents, Directors and Principals: Request a partnership on this page to unlock our resources for your whole community.

Become a member or log in to learn more on this topic

Superintendents, Directors and Principals: Request a partnership on this page to unlock our resources for your whole community.
Quotation marks

This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

StarStarStarStarStar

Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

StarStarStarStarStar

Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

Quotation marks

This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

StarStarStarStarStar

Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

Learn more

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Join Our Next Live Parent Q&A Events

Jul
18
Register

Parent Strategies for Your Struggling Teen (Live Event)

This event is for parents of teens who are struggling with negative self-talk, managing emotions, or self isolation to help their teens can build a bright and meaningful future.

Jul
23
Register

Sneaky Ways TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts are Pulling Kids in and Making Them Numb

Join this live parent night event and find out what tricks video apps are using to keep your kids watching

Become a Very Informed Parent (VIP) to get our social media suggestions in your email every Tuesday & Thursday.

Dotted arrow to right
Learn about our
"Very Informed Parent" 
VIP Program
Right arrow
Josh Ochs headshot Round

Schools & Districts: Partner with us to protect your community online

Our remote presentations (and website) teaches over a million students each year how to shine online. We teach students how their accounts can be used to create a portfolio of positive accomplishments that impress colleges and employers.

Partner with SmartSocial.com
Right arrow
SmartSocial podcast logo
Join Our Smart Social Podcast
each week on iTunes

With over 240 episodes, Josh Ochs interviews psychologists, therapists, counselors, teachers, and parents while showing you how to navigate social media to someday shine online.

Listen on: