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Why Co-Viewing is Important: Tips to Share Screen Time with Your Kids

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By Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP

Most parents I meet these days worry about what their kids do online. After all, it can be hard to know what they're absorbing from their media interactions.

The good news is that online experiences can help kids learn conversation skills, strengthen their decision-making abilities and much more. However, they do need guidance from parents and caregivers to gain the greatest benefit (and avoid possible harm).

Making a family media plan is one way you can help kids and teens embrace healthy digital habits. One of these habits can also be one of the most fun: co-viewing media with your child. Co-viewing can open a window into your child's online experiences in a context of sharing and trust. It can open difficult conversations, build parent-child bonds and give you the chance to help your child navigate the digital landscape in a positive way.

What exactly is co-viewing?

Co-viewing (or co-playing) happens when adults hang out with kids to get a sense of the apps, games, shows, music and other online content they enjoy. You can ask your child's permission to join them for:

  • Movie nights

  • Gaming sessions

  • YouTube or TikTok viewing

  • Time exploring apps or websites

  • Listening sessions: music, podcasts and other audio content

If you're worried about something you see, you can address it in a thoughtful way. Co-viewing and co-playing isn't the same as policing. It's a way to learn more about your child's online experiences in a context of sharing and trust.

First, consider both the pros and cons of using media

Watching and playing together online will be more valuable if you start with a balanced view of digital technology's risks and benefits. We know that the virtual world is here to stay. While it can have some negative effects, it's helpful to focus on ways that screen time can help support healthy learning, development and play.

For example, online content can:

  1. Introduce new words and help your child understand them in context

  2. Invite them to sing along or respond to cues from characters

  3. Model positive behaviors like cooperation, friendliness and respect

  4. Build letter and number knowledge and recognition

  5. Encourage active play, investigation and problem-solving

Benefits for teens include bolstering social connections, team play, creative pursuits, academic skill-building and much more. In fact, a 10-year study highlighted some of the positive outcomes for tweens and teens who spent time online.

This isn't to say that excessive screen time isn't dangerous – or that you don't need to keep an eye on what your child or teen is doing online. Co-viewing and co-playing can help you maximize the benefits of online. It will keep you in touch with your child's digital experiences, giving you a natural opportunity to guide them.

Shared screen time: 10 tips to view, listen and play alongside your child

  • Ask permission, especially with school-age kids. Older children may be accustomed to surfing, listening or playing alone, so asking to enter their digital world makes the shift more comfortable. You might say, "Hey, that looks so fun. Mind if I join you for a bit?"

  • Follow their interests. Express friendly curiosity about your child's choices. Make sure they know you're genuinely interested in what they like. You're not there to judge or police them, but to learn from them. The trust you build will help your child relax and invite you in.

  • Practice quiet observation. Talking with your child is part of co-watching, but make sure there are plenty of pauses where you're watching and discovering. Notice your child's facial expressions, body language, even the sounds they make while watching or playing. All are valuable clues about the experience they're having.

  • Enjoy the snuggle. Co-viewing can offer moments of physical closeness with your child. If your child is open to it, cuddle on the couch or a comfy chair. Affectionate touches such as stroking their hair or rubbing their back might feel good.

  • Ask open-ended questions. When you want to know what your child is thinking, skip "yes" or "no" questions for something like, "Tell me more about this character." Or, "How did you pick this game? What's your favorite part?"

  • Set fears and judgments aside (for now). If something disturbs you during a co-watching session, try not to comment right away. Make a mental note so you can come back to the issue later when it won't interrupt your child or make them feel defensive. If you see something so negative you can't let it go on— bullying, for example—ask your child to pause so you can talk.

  • Look for enriching links. If you're watching a show about animals, you might say, "Hey, isn't this part of what you're studying in school?" Listening to songs might lead to a conversation about poetry, musical instruments or how singers use their voices to express emotion.

  • Make it active. Move around while you're listening to music and podcasts or watching TikTok and YouTube together. Try out dance challenge videos and enjoy a healthy laugh when you make silly moves. Or go full-out with virtual pickleball, bowling and other physical games.

  • With tweens and teens, use co-viewing to spark positive conversations. When I wanted to start a dialogue with my middle-school-aged daughter about peer pressure, I chose a movie I'd loved when I was her age. "Pretty in Pink" gave us plenty of opportunities to talk about dating, cliques, fashion and the cruelty high-school kids sometimes show each other. It was a much more relaxed way to open these topics with her – and we both enjoyed seeing that a decades-old movie still felt relevant today.

  • Include co-viewing and co-playing in your family media plan. Kids of all ages feel better about following tech rules when there's a shared plan in place that all family members follow. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) family media plan is a great tool to engage kids in creating a plan that:

    • Specifies what kind of content is allowed and what's not

    • Sets age-appropriate limits on screen time

    • Carves out tech-free times, such as meals or family outings

    • Addresses risks and creates safeguards that everyone can get behind

    • Allows kids to give parents feedback and create shared guidance around adult digital media use

Your plan can include co-viewing and co-playing as a way to share digital experiences as a family. It also models the principle that everyone—grown-ups included—must use online technology in healthy, responsible ways.

More information

About Dr. Moreno

Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAPMegan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP, is a lead author of the policy statement, "Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents." She is co-director of the National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health and principal investigator of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) within the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Moreno also served on a committee for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine's report: "Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy and Practice."

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American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications & Media (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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