Kids and Screen Time (Part 2)

Part 1 revealed that most toddlers through teenagers watch multiple screens during the day and night. This time on devices, experts say, may have harmful effects on children and youth. More and more parents have become aware that staring at devices for long periods of time may lead to their sons and daughters displaying undesirable behaviors.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in their “Facts for Family” publication (2020) lists what children are exposed to on home screens:

  • Violence and risk-taking behaviors
  • Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior
  • Sexual content
  • Negative stereotypes
  • Substance use
  • Cyberbullies and predators
  • Advertising aimed at your child
  • Misleading or inaccurate information

Then these experts go further in listing what might occur to children and youth who do spend big chunks of their day staring at screens:

  • Sleep problems
  • Lower grades in school
  • Reading fewer books
  • Less time with family and friends
  • Not enough outdoor or physical activity
  • Weight problems
  • Mood problems
  • Poor self-image and body image issues
  • Fear of missing out
  • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

Will children develop these problems by spending so much time on devices at home? Based on the studies I have seen, I cannot say with a high degree of certainty that such issues will arise because with so many family and individual variables, a causal link between watching screens and children developing social, psychological, and emotional problems is tough to pin down. Nonetheless, parents across social class, ethnicity, and race do worry about effects of too much screen time.

What should parents do? The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry published guidelines for parents to use when it comes to children at home and multiple devices available for them to use:

  • “Until 18 months of age limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
  • Between 18 and 24 months screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
  • For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
  • For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
  • Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
  • Learn about and use parental controls.
  • Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or to stop tantrums.
  • Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.”

And what about schools? Can parents do anything about schools doubling the screen time for their sons and daughters?

Schools can restrict use. There are a few schools that see the overall picture of home and classroom screen use and restrict use of devices. Google executive Alan Eagle whose children attend a Waldorf school spoke to a reporter:

[H]e says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

High tuition private schools with a clear ideology about teaching and learning and the place high-tech devices should and should not play in both have that latitude to reduce use of computers in elementary and middle school grades. That Waldorf school caters to affluent offspring of Silicon Valley parents, many of whom work at nearby companies.

Except for school policies banning cell phone use in classrooms–a policy that administrators and teachers are often ambivalent about and enforce erratically–few public schools have the luxury of restricting use of digital devices in lessons. In a society that loves technology and sees it as the solution to problems both private and public, school officials who raise questions risk strong backlash from parents, vendors, and students. Unless, of course, they are pressured by parents concerned about use of public funds for technology and increased screen time for children and youth.

Parents can raise questions with district and school administrators about use of digital tools for classroom lessons. There are straightforward questions such as why is the school adopting devices for all students (see here)? Then there are the questions that often don’t get asked: Is use of computers effective in increasing academic achievement? After the novelty effect of new tablets and laptops wear off, as it inevitably does, are devices used in daily lessons and in what ways? Can ever-rising expenditures for school technologies be re-directed to research-based options such as hiring trained and experienced teachers?

Such parent/school cooperation around screen time is rare although a few parents and school officials do raise such questions (see here, here, and here).

Those top leaders who founded and run high-tech organizations talk about how they reduced use of technology for their own children have yet to make the connection of total screen time now that schools have thoroughly embraced digital devices as must-have tools for daily lessons. Combined time watching screens at school and home for the young mirrors the work world where employees are always on call and boundaries between private and work lives are disappearing.

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One response to “Kids and Screen Time (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Do schools have well-considered policies about the use of digital devices in classrooms? | Dennis Sparks on re·sil·ience

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