Arcadia Kim knows that video games are designed to hook you because that used to be her job. For about 15 years, she rose through the ranks of Electronic Arts, working on major franchises like Lord of the Rings and The Sims out of Los Angeles.
When Kim became pregnant in 2006, she couldn’t imagine continuing in her all-consuming role of chief operating officer. “I decided to retire to focus on being a stay-at-home mom, and I really thought I was going to go off into the sunset, stirring a pot of spaghetti in one hand and breastfeeding a baby on the other,” she says. “It was going to be beautiful and blissful.”
Spoiler alert: motherhood got complicated, with so many minefields, from trying to maintain her son’s feeding schedule to facing judgment from working parents: ‘what a waste for a Harvard MBA grad.’ (Kim’s LinkedIn profile now lists a past role as COO at The Pregnancy Pause.) At least she was confident she had technology under control—until the iPhone came out in 2007.
“Suddenly our games were travelling with us wherever we go,” Kim says. “This area became a huge amount of fear for me because everything we were hearing was how screen time can rot a child’s brain.” She reacted by becoming incredibly strict with her kids, and screen time devolved into constant yelling and negotiations. Her wakeup call came when her son, 10, threw an iPad at her head and nearly knocked her out.
“I realised I was sending the entirely wrong message—I was saying, ‘this technology, it’s dangerous, it’s something that’s so powerful you can’t control it and you should be fearful’,” says Kim. “When in actuality, they need to become masters and figure it out because there’s so much this technology can do for good.”
Not only did Kim overhaul her approach to screen time, but she gradually became inspired to help other families do the same. She was living in Hong Kong by this point and struck by the diversity of perspectives among the multicultural parents. “There’s a lot to be learned from each other,” says Kim. “I want people to be able to have these conversations without stigma because these worries are happening in real time.” She cited Facebook’s Metaverse announcement as an example of how even technology we think we know is constantly shifting beneath us.
Kim launched Infinite Screentime in April 2020, choosing an intentionally provocative name that also indicates her belief in unlocking the infinite potential of technology. As Covid-19 escalated, the topic gained urgency as families struggled to manage the spike in screen time needed for school, work and socialising.
For Kim’s introverted son, home-based online learning had its upside. “He enjoyed it because he didn’t have to feel like he was performing; if everyone was on mute, and he raised his hand, the attention was immediately put on him whereas he had to fight for it in the classroom.”
Just as every kid is unique, so too is every family. Kim resists giving a one-size-fits-all amount of recommended weekly screen time—the question she gets most frequently. She works with families to set rules based on their values and how they want to approach the free time in their schedules.
“We need to start talking about screen time like it’s nutrition or physical activity or even hygiene, something that we all need to know how to do to survive and thrive,” says Kim. Below she shares six ways families can cultivate healthier screen habits.
Kim elaborates on her movement to stop the guilt, shame, and worry around screen time during her appearance at the TEDxTinHauWomen event on December 10, 2021.