Kids spending too much time staring at screens? Focus on positive goals to get them moving and reading and talking

(The Conversation) As vaccines become more available and life begins returning to so-called normal, caregivers and educators may have to contend with dramatically increased screen habits that kids developed during the pandemic.

My research offers a positive – dare I say joyful – way to wean a child off of a screen habit. Instead of focusing on the excessive screen time, my approach focuses on the healthy activities that kids could be doing instead.

SPOIL system

SPOIL is an acronym I developed to easily explain this information to parents and caregivers. It stands for Social activities, Play, Outdoor time, Independent work and Literacy.

The SPOIL activities can reverse the effects of recreational screen time. For example, active time outdoors can promote sleep, while excessive recreational screen time can decrease sleep quality.

Some elements of the SPOIL framework – such as social and literacy-based activities – encourage caregivers to spend time with children. Others – like play and independent work, which includes chores – encourage children to entertain or occupy themselves and regulate their emotions without the aid of a screen or a parent, as pediatricians recommend.

Here is a more in-depth look at what SPOIL involves: Social Activities, Play, Outdoor Activities, Independent Work, Literacy


Literacy involves all forms of reading and writing, including a child being read to, reading independently and listening to audiobooks. Reading is associated with understanding the perspectives of others, larger vocabulary and academic achievement. As with many of the SPOIL categories, the frequency of reading in the home is inversely related to recreational screen time.

Replacing excessive screen time with SPOIL activities may support children’s development during and after the pandemic. Because positive approach goals rely less on self-control, they may be more sustainable and successful than avoidance goals. Additionally, these activities likely counteract some negative effects of excessive recreational screen time, which makes the emphasis on screen limits less necessary in the first place.

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Publication:      The Conversation
Author:             Meghan Owenz
Publish Date:   3.10.2021