Are some types of screen time better than others?
For sure. There's a huge difference between an hour spent shooting zombies in Zombie Duck Hunt and an hour spent learning vocabulary from a smartphone app or composing music online.
That's not to say that everything has to be stamped "educational" to provide an enriching experience. With any screen media you choose for your kids -- movies, games, TV shows, and apps -- you want to look for how it engages your child. And, although there's nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, you can maximize your kid's screen time if you consider the "four C's."
Connection. It's really important that kids connect on a personal level with what they're watching, playing, or reading. Are they engaged? Engrossed? Maybe even enlightened? Getting into a story line or identifying with characters primes kids for more learning.
Critical thinking. Look for media that takes a deep dive into a topic, subject, or skill. Maybe it's games in which kids wrestle with ethical dilemmas or strategize about bypassing obstacles. Rote quizzing and simple Q&A-style games may be fun and seem educational, but they may not help kids find deep or long-lasting meaning.
Creativity. An important feature of many great learning products is the ability for kids to create new content -- a new level for a video game or a song, for instance. Kids can feel more ownership of their learning when they get to put their own spins on the experience.
Context. Help your kids understand how their media fits into the larger world. For younger kids in particular, the discussions and activities surrounding games or movies are key. Being with kids while they play or watch, asking questions about what they're taking away, and doing related offline activities can extend learning.