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Students accustomed to passively receiving impressions have difficulty making the inner effort necessary to sustain imaginative thought.
Waldorf School


Parent-approved video games that are played in moderation can help young kids develop in educational, social, and physical ways.
–Cheryl Olson on


Opinions about screen time for kids vary wildly. The staunch anti-screen gang tells us that watching shows and playing video games stunts kids’ authentic imaginative impulses. The pro-gaming guys often try to convince us that our kids will become smarter with digital “education.”

When I looked for definitive guidelines, I started with the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group recently updated its screen time guidelines to decry most passive, entertainment screen time–especially for the first 2 years. (Note: connecting with grandparents via Skype is deemed universally beneficial.)

Now, I get that being active outside, making stuff with our hands and reading together is optimal. Connecting and conversing with one another, no matter our age, builds relationships, memories, and builds GREAT little communicators.

So, yes, hands-on parenting is essential. And it also takes a lot of energy, focus and patience. So while the AAP means well with its stringent screen time guidelines, some of us parents have to fit in 25 minutes of emails a few times through the day while our kid is on school vacation. And when we are tired and our kid really has spent hours building, drawing and running around, sometimes a screen option can really help. Here are a few I turn to sometimes, and I do believe they can’t be too harmful:

Watching fun shows with my kid on a rainy afternoon or on a lazy Friday night is HEAVEN. We cuddle, we giggle at the Muppets together. Love it. Quality, age-appropriate stuff, and timeless shows without product tie-ins and inane voices are nourishing (Jungle Book, Cat in the Hat, Octonauts, even Pink Panther shorts). The occasional Ninjago or other action adventure/fighting show is a big treat for my kid. And being willing to go into that world with him has built trust and shared lingo about kung fu.

And because I know what the shows are about, I feel okay about allowing my kid to watch a short show while I work beside him.


When my kid plays Minecraft in the kitchen while I’m cooking, I keep peeking over his shoulder. He tells me about the stuff he’s building. I tell him about stuff I’m cooking. We’re co-working.

If we’ve had a lot of outside time, my kid gets to play a game like Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies for 25 minutes with a timer. I might sit beside him and write a blog post. When time’s up, we both move on to a new activity.

Recently, my kid proudly showed his grandpa how to play his new Star Wars game. Oh, my. Old and little are friends. This is a deep share, and I’m sure the AAP would approve.

Playing Rock Band/Guitar Hero with my nephew and Grandma (my mom) was a hilarious way to connect and spend time together. (Note: it’s NOT great for musical development. Man, that guitar and drum interface are NOT synced up rhythmically. You have to go on sight, not deep internal rhythm. Musicians are BAD at this game!!!)

When we are introduced to martial arts, catapults, or artifacts in games and videos, we often head to the library to dig deeper. This integrates our screen time seamlessly with real time. We get more out of it all and learn about stuff we might not have every known about.

I need to do better about putting my own screens away. I often check my email during Lego and playground time, and this is a sure-fire way for me to pass on this trait to my son (ugh). Now, I do spend a lot of time with my kid–even more now that school’s out for the summer. So pulling out the phone while I push on the screen is sometimes the only way to fit in work. But limiting these interruptions–is my ultimate goal.


As with all things, moderation is probably the sublime path. Obviously, just throwing an ipad at a kid without limits or vetted material is not appropriate. But thoughtful, tempered screen time has been a great boon for both parent and child alike in our family. Guess we’ll see how it shakes down in, um, 20 years…

In the meantime, got any recommendations for good games for a 6 year old?

Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting