what kids need, what screens provide

What kids need and what screens provide

In a recent webinar I gave on “Weaning the Screens”, I discussed the many things kids need to thrive and maintain wellbeing. During lockdowns and a year of covid upheaval, many of the usual ways kids have these needs met were taken away. The uptake of extra screentime, came along to fill the many voids.

To understand how we can best help our kids wean off some screentime and maintain balance and control over their digital lives, it is important we recognise those needs and how we can ensure we provide plenty of other opportunities to nurture them, that don’t always revolve around a digital device.


Autonomy is a basic need of kids. Kids have a natural desire to be in charge of their play, be independent in their choices and decide where their attention is centred. This year many kids lost a lot of those choices in how they played, where and with whom they played with. So many turned to games and screens and the online world to help them do that. This gave them some put them in charge of what they played, how long for and with whom and where they focused their attention.

How Screens filled the void: By giving them the choice of what games they play, where and with whom they interact online, what social networks they engaged with and what sites they visited, kids were able to garner some of that autonomy over their play time.

How we can help nurture Autonomy: We want to continue to encourage that independence, but in the many other elements of their play, learning and growth. That may mean letting out the leash a little.  That may mean we give them greater say in how they spend their time. Heading out into the world which may even mean peeling off some of that cotton wool and letting them take a few reasonable risks. Letting them determine what is important to them and how they can go about incorporating those things into their lives. We have been giving kids lots of opportunities with structured play, lessons and arranged activities, but maybe we can head toward greater freedom to move, to play in unstructured ways and give them some faith in themselves and their choices. 


Competency is really just a desire to achieve things and be confident in our abilities to do something well. To set out on completing a task, to give something a decent shot and reap the rewards for effort. Once again this year, many of those activities, pursuits, opportunities to compete, practise, train or simply feel good about themselves, were taken away.

How screens filled the void: the games and the online world gave them those opportunities to make progress, be rewarded and achieve. They could be successful at a game, make some wins, get to another level or even get lots of views on their Tik Tok video.

How we can help nurture competency: By providing other opportunities to shine, other communities to belong to and other role models to look up to, we can help them engage in levels of competency. We can celebrate the wins they have in the real word, the advances they make in learning a new skill. We can reward an effort made that will ultimately lead to greater competency at any given task. They can still still do great things with the screens and the online world, but it can’t be the only way they shine, they connect, they play and they grow. 


Connection is one of the most universal needs of humans and our young people are no exception. With remote learning and the cancellation of all parties, playdates, sports trainings, competition and extra curricula activities, this was one of the most interrupted of all our kids needs.

How screens filled the void: Zoom calls and video chats became a way for them to connect. Social media helped them stay up to date with friends and family and peers. And gaming became something many people, especially kids took up in much greater doses, in order to get that connection, participate in that banter, enjoy healthy competition and teamwork and to feel a sense of belonging. And as long as it was done safely and respectfully, then that has served them well to fill that void.

How we can help nurture connection: Whilst the online world thus provided us a very real way to help us stay connected, many will now attest and are certainly craving, the face to face interaction and side by side play. So we must continue to give them the freedom to hang out with mates in any ways they can. To get fresh air and exercise with friends and to enjoy the downtime and unstructured freedom that comes from simply “hanging out”.

So whilst this year has seen us thrown into a world of screens, gaming and digital technologies in ways and in amounts that we may not be entirely comfortable with…remember that they do play an important role for your kids, but it is up to us to help them realise that they are just one of the many ways they can get all of the things they need. 

If you did miss my weaning the screens webinar, send me a message at martine@themodernparent.net and you can arrange to purchase a recorded version. Or if you are a school, please speak to me about organising a session for your school and parent community.

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