May 3, 2018
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
When working with technology, one tends to use a screen. As a kindergarten teacher, I am constantly battling the use of screens versus hands-on interaction. A constant concern of parents is that their children are spending too much time in front of a screen. So really, how much screen time is too much?
When thinking about technology and the use of a screen, one has to look at it from different angles: time, type, and intake vs. output.
When children work with screens, time is always a big concern. Spending 15-30 minutes a day is a time frame that is thrown around a lot. Another one is that the screen time is not consecutive; break up the 30 minutes with 5 minutes of movement and activity. In terms of time, it is tricky. On the one hand, it is important to limit the time; no human should spend hours in front of a tiny glowing screen. But on the other hand, if the time is spent being productive working on a project or creating and developing, then it is hard to limit the work time. For my students and I, I like to limit the time. I typically only let students work with screens for about 10 minutes. And when working, my students are completely supervised. Whatever they are doing, there is an adult present to guide them to the most productive route. By working with the students, they get a chance to see how productive time is spent. Having this knowledge will hopefully translate in the future, when they are allowed to be using screens for longer periods of time. If they know how to use the screens in a productive manner, then it will not be such a waste of time.
When students and technology are discussed, the term screen time is tossed around, but what does that actually mean? Screen time is very general; there are screens on cell phones, on iPads, televisions, movie screens, computers, etc. So when people are concerned about screens, which ones are they concerned about? In my experience, people who are concerned focus primarily on small individual screens (iPads, tablets cell phones, etc.); the items that children can shove right in their faces. There are studies that show children develop stronger mental capabilities if they are not exposed to any screens during the first two years of their lives. But again, I believe monitored moderation is the key. If the adults in charge are aware of how much children are using screens- and monitor and limit it- the negative side effects are not so strong. It is when the students are unsupervised that the screen time can become unsafe. Also being aware of what type of screen is being used is essential. How students interact with Smartboards is different compared to computers, which is different compared to tablets, which is different compared to cell phones. Each device needs to be taken at a case-by-case basis; create a pro/con list and take a look at how the device can be used.
When looking at the use of screens, for me the last area to consider is the final product; is the end result something that is being consumed by the student, or are the students creating and developing a new product? If the students are solely consuming what the screen is providing, then that is more of a concern. But if students are working and creating a new product, then the screen time can be seen in a more beneficial light. It becomes even more valuable if what the student is creating can only be done so through technology, such as coding.
At the end of the day, screen time is like anything else- it is best in moderation. It is important to take into consider how long and in what ways the screen will be used. But ultimately it is up to the parents and the teachers to teach students the benefits and the dangers of technology and screen time. And the best we can hope for is that students learn and understand and use smart, safe digital citizenship with their screen time.