Kids and Digital Content Creation

Bonnie Nishihara, Assistant Head & Director of Educational Design + Innovation

From very early in my career I was inspired by the work of Mitch Resnick at the MIT Media Lab who wrote, "Computers will not live up to their full potential until we start to think of them more like finger paint and less like television." I believe students should use digital devices for more than the consumption of entertainment and social media. Students should use digital tools for creative coding, for the production of visual art, animation, movies, music, and for storytelling of all kinds. This is at the heart of the work we do in the media, technology and innovation department at Mark Day School. For this reason I was particularly struck by some of the findings in the 2019 Common Sense Media Census published in the fall. The report presents the results of a national survey of more than 1,600 U.S. tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) and teens (13- to 18-year-olds). The purpose of the study is to offer a big-picture view of media usage by young people, including what tweens and teens enjoy most about media, how frequently they use media, and how much time they spend using it.

The report is full of thought provoking findings. The finding that I found most surprising is that tweens and teens spend very little time using digital devices for creative purposes. According to the report:

No more than one in 10 in either age group say they enjoy "a lot" things like making digital art or graphics (10% of tweens and 9% of teens), creating digital music (4% of tweens and 5% of teens), coding (4% of tweens and 3% of teens), or designing or modifying their own video games (4% of tweens and 6% of teens). By comparison, 67% of tweens and 58% of teens enjoy watching online videos "a lot." (2019 Common Sense Media Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens)

The report goes on to say that only 2% of tweens' time using screens is spent video chatting, 2% e-reading, and 2% creating content (such as writing, or making digital art or music). For teens, 4% percent is spent video chatting, 3% creating their own writing, art, or music, and 2% e-reading. These figures have not changed since Commons Sense published their last research survey in 2015.

Common Sense's research findings make it clear that the allure of entertainment and social media is strong. As educators working to instill in students that technology is not just a toy, but also a tool, it sometimes feels like we are swimming upstream. I experience this as the parent of a 12-year-old as well. A parenting tip that may help improve the quality of our children's screen time is to not only place limits on screen time, but also make a distinction between different kinds of screen time. When given a choice of what to do with their screen time, tweens and teens almost always choose the entertainment and social media options. As parents we can guide our children's choices by designating some screen time for content creation only. As soon as we choose to allow our children to use screens, we should also begin shaping that use for creative purposes.

If you are looking for ways to guide your child towards more creative uses of digital devices, below is a sampling of recommended apps for content creation that range in price. Common Sense Media is also a great source for creative app recommendations. For more recommendations, visit the Common Sense Media Best Creative Apps list.

Little Kids (5-7)

  • Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity ($2.99)
  • ScratchJr (free)
  • Toontastic 3D (free)

Big Kids (8-9)

  • GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine (free)
  • Hopscotch-Programming for kids (free with subscription option)
  • Strip Designer ($2.99)

Tweens (10-12)

  • GarageBand (free)
  • Scratch (free)
  • Cartooning for Beginners: How to Draw Cartoon Dogs! (Hint: Don't pay full price. Wait for one of their frequent sales when all courses are $9.99)

Teens (13+)

Great online tutorials from sites such as YouTube (free) or Udemy can unlock professional level creative apps for teens. (Hint: Don't ever pay full price for Udemy courses. Wait for one of their frequent sales when all courses are $9.99)

Udemy courses:


  • Unity development platform (free)
  • Adobe Photoshop (provided on Mark Day laptops)
  • Adobe After Effects (provided on Mark Day laptops)
  • Moho Debut 13 ($59.99)