Tips for safe, smart screen time for kids

Summertime means more screen time for kids. Here's how to make the experience safe, educational and fun!

Summer is a great time for kids - no school, no homework and lots of opportunities to have fun. It also means they're probably watching more shows on TV or the iPad. Here are a few ways to make sure the experience is a good one.

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Watch out for "Evil Peppa" Videos on YouTube

There is a disturbing trend in kids' YouTube videos. It happens on searches for popular kids' shows including Peppa and Thomas the Train. If you click the first video you see and hand the tablet to your kid - be careful!  There are impostor cartoon videos all over YouTube with millions and millions of views. They start out innocent enough, and sort of look like the real thing. But suddenly they turn disturbingly evil - with on-screen blood, screaming and more. Best to make sure videos come from official channels on YouTube or download the YouTube Kids app in an effort to avoid them altogether.

Find recommendations from Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is a great resource for all things kids when it comes to apps, movies, TV shows and more. The website has editors who screen content and explain to parents what's in there. You can also narrow down content based on your child's age and what you're looking for - movies, apps, games and more.

Download the PBS KIDS app for free streaming shows

PBS KIDS has a fantastic app for kids featuring full length shows you can watch for free. Each show has four full-length episodes that rotate weekly so your kids always have something new to watch.

"All PBS KIDS shows start from educational goals. We really want to make sure everything that happens on screen has some sort of positive message to it," explained Sara DeWitt, Vice President of Digital for PBS KIDS.

Alternatively, PBS now has a free 24/7 digital kids channel you can get over the air with an antenna. This way you can simply tune it in on your TV and know your kids are watching quality content.

Ask your kids questions about the shows they watch

DeWitt offered a fantastic tip that I've now implemented with my kids - ask them more questions about the things they're watching.

"If you walk over and say 'Hey, what just happened in that show?' 'Can you tell me what you learned in that show?' That’s a really great educational boosting moment for the kid," explained DeWitt.

I also like the "What would you do in that situation?" question. A little Q&A provides the basis for an excellent interaction between parents and kids. You will be surprised just how much critical thinking is going on inside those little brains of theirs.