THE BLOG
02/04/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2013

Why 'Screen Time' Doesn't Really Mean Anything Anymore

At your child's physical each year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that I ask you how much screen time your child uses each day. Then, I should recommend that your child (over the age of 2) have no more than two hours of those activities in any given day. So, I bring it up with parents and kids during every well child visit.

"What about homework?" parents ask. Well, homework is separate. "Does my e-reader count?" kids want to know. If you're just reading, I guess not. "Does that include educational games?" "What about puzzles on the tablet?" "Is Halo 4 cool?" Wait, no.

A timer just isn't going to do it anymore folks. Not for doctors, and not for parents.

We have to stop thinking of all screens as "bad" and think about media the way we think about food. That's right, we need good media nutrition!

Halo 4 is junk food. Twinkies, battered, fried and covered in chocolate sauce kind of junk food. As Paula Deen once said of her Krispie Kreme Burger recipe, "Enjoy the heck out of it, 'cause you can only have one serving per lifetime." PBSKids.org, on the other hand, is broccoli. So, as it turns out, is MineCraft!

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing some major gaming experts to get some guidance about what games I should let my kids play, and how often. WQED in Pittsburgh, the nation's first community-supported television station, has launched a new television program called "iQ: smartparent." The first episode sets out to solve this dilemma.

Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and formerly Creative Director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio, explains what kids who never game may miss. Nikki Navta, creator of Zulama, opens up a new world of gaming in the classroom and challenges our ideas that kids should "check their screens at the door" when they go to learn. Dr. Brian Primack, internationally acclaimed researcher on the effects of media on health, delineates the specific dangers of video games and how to avoid them.

So what did I learn? We can look at the aspects of a video game the same way we look at the nutritional information about the food we eat.

How much violence is there? A fair amount will desensitize our kids to the real-life violence or bullying that happens around them. Does the player cause some of the violence? This has been shown to make kids (and adults) more aggressive. These characteristics make it less "nutritious" for sure.

Do the players work in teams or have to agree on parts of the game? Then they're learning collaboration. Do they make up part of the game environment or content? This builds creativity and engagement. Are there ethical issues to address? That means they are learning problem-solving skills. All of this pushes our nutritional content up!

So stop counting minutes they look at a screen and start talking to kids about what's in the media they consume. And inspire them to create their own epic game! Check out iQ: smartparent for other ways and reasons to use video games for good.