There's no way to keep kids off screens completely, so how can parents make sure the screens help kids and don't hurt them?  There are at least five ways.

The first thing my three girls want to do when they get home from school is turn on their devices and start playing games.  I let them do it once the homework is done, but then the parental guilt creeps in and I wonder if I should.  Screens get a bad rap for being addictive and mindless, but can't they also be really productive?

Sometimes when parents worry about things we go straight to the web to see if other parents and experts will help us feel better about our decisions.  So in this case, I went to a screen because I was worried about screens.  One website that I ran across made me feel a whole lot better about kids and devices, so I thought I'd share.

Theschoolrun.com offered several ways to keep screen time positive for kids.  Some of these things I've used and maybe you have too.  Others might be new.

1.  Ask a big question and have them research it.  One day the girls and I got into a conversation about cheetahs and how fast they run, and whether cheetahs or jaguars were ultimately faster.  They went to their screens and had a race to see who could find the answers.  This works as long as they're interested in the subject.  Researching stir fry recipes might help Mama with dinner, but the kids are going to numb right out on that one.  Animals and music are usually slam dunks.

2.  Youtube.  This is a tricky one because kids can get into too-sexy videos and dumb stunts in a hurry, but there are a million constructive videos there too.  My 9-year old has been eating up the videos on how to make bracelets and how to tie back hair into the perfect bun.  At least she's learning a little something.  Sometimes the girls and I watch cats get freaked out by cucumbers, and we all laugh and have a family bonding moment. The possibilities are endless.

3.  Use educational apps.  My 7-year old downloaded the Prodigy app the other day and was immediately consumed by it.  The other night her two sisters came downstairs to dinner when I called but Piper was nowhere to be found, and when I hollered up the stairs to see what in the heck she was doing she said, "Hang on!  I have to finish this math problem!  A hundred times zero is zero!"  Okay, awesome.  Are there more apps like that?  Here's my parental password.

4.  Learn to codeTheschoolrun says kids can start to grasp coding by using an app like Scratch Jr or a device like a Raspberry Pi to create computer games, make music and more.  I haven't pointed my kids toward this idea yet, but this is a great idea to have in our parental back pockets.

5.  Write a blog.  Kids can tell stories about their daily lives and start to discover ways to connect with people and have an impact.  And this gives them practice typing!  They've got to get past the urge to index-finger their way around the web, and the more they have to write actual sentences, the better their typing skills will get.  Blog about jaguars and cheetahs, or interesting math discoveries.  Anything to get going.

My kids are still going to play that crazy game where Granny creeps around the house and scares them, and they're going to play the animal adventure games where they are the prey and might get eaten.  Kids are kids and they need to play.  But as parents, we all secretly hope we're not screwing them up by letting them do this stuff.  Parenthood is a big fat challenge, have ya noticed?!  We never feel like we're nailing it, but some positive nudges and good balance will get us a little closer to the win.