Why screen time quality is important

The quality of screen time matters. For preschoolers, good-quality screen time has benefits in two key areas:

  • learning
  • behaviour.

Good-quality screen time can support your child’s learning, especially if it ties in with his interests or sparks his imagination. For example, a five-year-old can get a lot out of drawing or painting on a screen because this develops his ability to use shape and colour in imaginative ways.

Good-quality screen time can encourage positive behaviour too. For example, you and your child could watch a TV or YouTube show that encourages sharing, helping others and cooperating. Then afterwards you could use characters or ideas from the show to guide your child’s behaviour.

In contrast, poor-quality digital media has very few benefits. For example, your child won’t get much out of spending time by herself watching animations that include ads for toys.

Talking with your child about whether a game or TV program is good quality can help your child start to learn about what makes a good-quality TV program, movie, app or game.

Good-quality apps and games for preschoolers

The best apps and games help your child learn and develop. Good-quality apps or games for preschoolers:

  • encourage creativity – for example, by encouraging children to draw pictures or create and act out stories
  • encourage problem-solving – for example, by encouraging children to work out the most appropriate clothes for characters to wear in rainy weather
  • develop communication skills – for example, by prompting children to ask for something in a café, or chat to family and friends
  • develop social skills – for example, by encouraging children to take turns
  • build on interests – for example, by encouraging animal-loving children to explore a zoo or a farm.

Other practical things to think about with apps and games include:

  • age range – it’s a good idea to check that the age range for an app or game matches your child’s age
  • advertising – be wary of apps that feature movie characters or popular products, because these apps often promote consumption and specific products
  • privacy settings – check the terms and conditions to see whether and how apps collect data, and make sure you’re comfortable with the data they collect and what they use it for
  • ‘addictive’ games – be wary of games that make children feel they need to play ‘just one more game’. Young children can find it hard to manage their frustration when they have to stop playing games like this.

Good-quality TV programs, movies and YouTube for preschoolers

Good-quality TV programs, movies and YouTube videos for preschoolers:

  • have positive messages about relationships, family and life – avoid those that make violence or bad attitudes look good
  • include common scenarios and situations that children like playing in real life, like ‘hospital’ or ‘zoo’
  • inspire new off-screen play ideas for children after they’ve finished watching
  • have good stories that feature characters who treat each other with kindness and respect – avoid programs that are just about selling promotional toys, apps and gear
  • are age appropriate – for example, the stories and themes of some movies are too mature and complex for young children to fully understand.

Online reviews can help you decide whether a movie, app or game is good quality and has educational benefits. Try our movie reviews or reviews on Common Sense Media. Use Australian Classification to find out what different age classifications mean.