Screen time; Quality versus Quantity

Thinking through writing…

A question I always receive in workshops regarding the use of technology in the classroom is regarding the notion of “screen time”; what amount is too much (as you will never hear someone asking how much is sufficient!)?

Recently, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, changed their recommendations on the amount of screen time that it would suggest for a child under two (previously it was no screen time at all based on recommendations).  According to this article from, here are some of the AAP’s suggestions:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It’s the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It’s also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations likeCommon Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child’s behaviors.

All very sensible and make sense.  The conversation is crucial.

So what does this mean for schools?  Is it really about the time students spend in front of screen, or the quality of things they do in front of a screen?  For example, there is a difference between a child watching Sesame Street, as opposed to a child watching Sesame Street and talking about it during the program with an adult. Still the same amount of time in front of a screen, but the quality has definitely increased in the latter example.

In many schools that are hoping to get access to technology when funds are lacking, what happens when a child is front of that screen?  Are the activities focusing on thinking and promoting some mindfulness, or are the student’s getting “lost” in the screen?  Consuming videos on YouTube can become mind-numbing in some ways, but creating a video to post on YouTube, can actually create a connection and reflection on content, that was not there when simply consuming.

A timer in front of screen is probably not realistic in schools, but being thoughtful of what you and your students do while having access to technology is crucial.

But that being said…I know that sometimes I spend a lot of time getting lost on YouTube and Vine; I need a “check out” and watch some cats and dogs videos.  I sometimes need to not feel productive.  I thought about this fact as I read this article from a Meredith Bland titled, “Screen Time is Just a Part of Life“. This part resonated:

I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.

There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.

Quote from Meredith Bland

Quote from Meredith Bland

What I think is extremely crucial in this conversation is the conversation in the first place! That people are thinking about it in the context of teaching, learning, and parenting, and finding solutions that work for their family and treating their children as individuals, and not as part of a study, is something that I believe it be important.  What works for one, might not work for another.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  Our conversations about it should not be standardized as well.

P.S,  This article was written while looking at a screen and the opportunity to reflect and connect my own ideas, and share these thoughts with others is an activity that I would see as extremely beneficial to my learning…just noticed the irony before I was about to press publish.

Source: George Couros