I know I am about to make a lot of you uncomfortable. We have to talk about screen time. I’m going to be totally honest when I tell you that seeing your two year old on your phone absolutely terrifies me. Why? Because I have been in the classroom and I have seen what years of uncontrolled screen time has done to students. You might think it’s completely harmless, but I am here to tell you that it isn’t. Some of the issues that have arisen in schools across the country has a culprit and that culprit is screen time.
These days, many students struggle with sitting still for long periods of time, particularly in class. While some students have been diagnosed with ADHD, others have difficulties that are directly related to excessive screen time. Listening to their teacher is not nearly as entertaining as their iPad or phone. Nobody can compete with the way that technology lights up the pleasure center in the brain. What happens? Students become ill-prepared to sit in class for any amount of time.
I hear you arguing that schools should “get with the times” and offer students a more interactive environment. They have. Most teachers provide direct instruction for no more than 10 – 15 minutes, followed by peer interaction in pairs or groups. Sometimes this interactive time is followed up with some independent work or whole class sharing. If your child has only known “learning” from behind a screen, they are already at a disadvantage. Nothing in school will ever be as entertaining as their screen.
Students who are addicted to video games or iPads become identified fairly easily in social situations at school. They are reluctant to enter into discussions with their peers, make eye contact with adults, or participate in sports or other activities. Socialization is an integral part of educating the whole child. If they lack these skills, the environment of school puts undue stress on them. The result is that students become even more introverted and connected to their games or phones, pulling them further away from their peers. If we allow our children to retreat into the comfort of technology, we have not given them the opportunity to learn and practice the social skills they will need as they go out into the world.
If you didn’t know that our screens disrupt our sleep cycles, I am here to let you know that it does. The light from these screens is far brighter to your brain than daylight or even your TV. Think about the nights when you drag yourself into bed with your eyelids half closed and suddenly check your phone “quickly.” You might notice that you get caught up in what is happening online and your exhaustion seems to disappear. This is not a coincidence. Your brain thinks that it’s time to “wake up” and gets an energy boost from light on your phone. So many of my students will tell me that they have spent entire nights up until four or five am on their phones. As you can imagine, they are tired and irritable the next day during classes. With that level of exhaustion, even the most dedicated students will have a difficult time staying focused and retaining information.
Moderation is Not Easy:
Have you ever found yourself getting ready to “check your phone real quick” and then spending far more time on it than you had intended? Right. If we cannot regulate our own screen time, how do we expect our kids to do it? Simply put, they cannot and will not, unless we strictly enforce those time guidelines. And there’s the rub. An extra 15 minutes of quiet children can be so appealing. We think about all of the things we could accomplish with that extra time. We want to believe that a few more minutes isn’t harmful, but it is. It sends our kids the message that the time limits we set on screen time are negotiable. They shouldn’t be. If we want to ensure that our children are well-prepared for school, we have to be relentless in keeping them off these devices for extended periods of time.
What is the Solution?
I’m not speaking in judgment here. I am passionate about education and all of the opportunities it affords our children. I am also simultaneously horrified about the way screens have disrupted our children’s learning. Go to any store or restaurant and you will find children staring at phones so their parents can get some peace and quiet. But at what price? Because I don’t allow phones or Ipads (if you’re shouting because I only have one child, please read this) we didn’t bring my daughter out to eat much. I didn’t take my daughter grocery shopping until I could do so without her screaming bloody murder. It sucked. I found myself grocery shopping at 8:00 pm, exhausted. I found myself missing out on meals at restaurants, but I knew the time would be short. The sacrifices we make now directly affect our children in the future. So please, consider what that fifteen minutes of screen time is costing in the long run and decide whether or not it is really worth it.