Screen time: At home and in the classroom

Many parents, myself included, struggle to balance the widespread use of electronic media devices (tablets, computers, etc) at many schools and at homes, with a desire that our children spend more time reading, playing with friends, and creating. The presence of these devices is overwhelming. For example, in 2012, 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD* countries reported having a computer at home. Further, about 75% of teens own a smartphone, and 25% of them describe themselves as “constantly connected” to the Internet; 76% of teens use at least one social media site, and more than 70% of them visit multiple social media sites, such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Finally, 80% of households own a game console.

We know that at least some digital activities promote learning, skills and creativity (see here for an example). But how concerned should we be about overuse, and is there evidence that these electronic tools positively affect learning? A recent study suggests otherwise. The report found that acquiring digital skills does not reduce the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in reading skills. Although the report stresses the importance of bolstering students’ ability to navigate the digital world, it cautions that all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitized societies of the 21st century.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its recommendations for media use. For children younger than 2 they recommend very limited use, and only when an adult is present to co-view, talk, and teach. For example, video-chatting with family along with parents. For children 18 to 24 months, the academy recommends choosing high-quality programming, and using it with the child. For children 2 to 5 years of age: Co-viewing, but no more than 1 hour per day, and choose media that is interactive, non-violent, educational, and prosocial.

Other recommendations include:

  • When using digital media, consider what it is displacing, and strive to maintain protected time for conversation, play, and creativity.
  • Conversations about appropriate content, etiquette, empathy, and safety are important, and should start early.
  • Create media-free zones such as during meal times and at bedtime, and “media-free” hours or days. Eliminate background TV.
  • Adults need to be attentive to their own personal digital media use (or over-use), to set a positive example.

(*) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

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