November 4, 2020

How to Balance Screen Time with Students

These days, the words, “screen time” bring questions, concerns and struggle, made even more challenging by the appearance (and apparent residency) of COVID-19. Households across our country are struggling to make balances happen that feel are impossible: family/adult work/school/home/kids- all in a big blender churning week after week.  

Add the increased use of screen time for all of us, but especially for school-aged children. They are on a screen when they are at school, to decompress, hang with their friends, and play. Teachers and parents are aware that excessive and passive use of screen time is detrimental for little brains and bodies. Figuring out how to manage screen time is critical, but how? Below, I’ll provide some context and tips to help! 

Digital Natives 

  • Our students or children are digital natives – people born and raised, thus immersed, in the age of technology. 
  • Our students and our children are as familiar with interactive screen-based activity as we were familiar with push button phones jacked into the wall. We (I) talked with our peers by passing notes or hanging on the phone with your best buddy. . 
  • Connections with friends, sharing images, collaborating…these benefits of social media must be acknowledged and highlighted for students who can no longer see their peers in person, and/or who struggle with mental health challenges.  
  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is just as important as the rest of the schoolwork. Some level of social interaction has to take place, and right now, screen time is the most intuitive way for kids to connect. Not during instruction and not inappropriately, but connecting is of utmost importance. 

All Screen Time is Not Created Equal. 

  • When it comes to use of screen time, it’s not necessarily just about the quantity of time children are on their devices, but the quality of content they are digesting..  
  • Encourage students to be creators who use technology and their brains to produce all manners of content, using apps and sites as an outlet for creativity: videos, art, commentary, and the like.  
  • Consumers (the opposite of creators) take passive interest in watching the screens go by without really learning anything significant or being inspired to take action. Take a look below at data from the 2019 Common Sense Census: Social Media Use by Tweens and Teens showing different uses of technology, along with average time spent. 
  • Ideally, the numbers above should be turned on their head, with more time spent on eReading, content creation, and interpersonal connection, less time spent passively consuming all types of media online.  
  • Keeping equity in mind with students’ access to technology, teachers can challenge students to create original work. My daughter just showed me a video she made of our dog “talking.” Earth-shattering knowledge? No. She was being creative and using her brain actively within an app. More of this, please. 

Screen Breaks are Still a Thing 

  • Emphasizing screen breaks for everyone is a must- even for adults! At our house, we insist on an hour without screen after school, and limited use after dinner. My son uses time on screen to chill out, which we also allow, but in limited 20-30 minute sprints (taking the equal amount of time off).  
  • In a daily schedule, use any breaks teachers offer to encourage movement. We Are Teachers has compiled a list of 50 ideas to inspire you. 
  • Teach students to follow the 20-20-20 rule to avoid eye strain using a timer all day long, 

Sometimes It’s Just the Way It Is. 

  • No one has a corner on the market to achieve balance with school screens and home screens, and children will find ways to use their screens no matter what. Maybe it’s also time to adjust expectations, and simply do the best you can. 

Teachers and Parents: Be kind to yourself. You’re doing important work. 

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