I am often asked, “how much screen-time would you suggest for a child?” This question usually comes to me after a presentation, and then I ask, “how much screen time have you had in the last hour?” I often get responses from 0-30 minutes, but then I point out that the presentation was on a screen so if you were looking at your phone for 30 minutes while the screen was in front of you, does this count as 60 minutes or 90 in the past hour? As I am not an authority on the topic, I defer to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which changed their suggestions from “no-screen time” at a certain age, to encouraging more thoughtfulness of what the time looks like in front of a screen. They (AAP) changed their guidelines from the past as they have acknowledged that “screens” are a part of our world and we should be more thoughtful of what that time looks like, as it is often unavoidable.
Of course, we need to be aware of the access and opportunities our students, and we have today, and playtime, time without access in front of a screen, are all essential elements of our lives. There are many opportunities that our children have today that we didn’t, but we also have to recognize there are lots of opportunities that we had away from screens as kids that have positively shaped us today. It should not be an “all or nothing” scenario.
Directly from the AAP website, they make some suggestions on how to guide your child as a parent (both with and without screens), but there is one suggestion that I want to focus on in particular:
Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens – it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It’s a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives, and guidance. Don’t just monitor children online, interact with them – you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
In the context of schools, we have to recognize that while students are around others, the use of technology can still be done in isolation. Is the student-focused solely on the mobile device in front of them, or do they have opportunities to actively collaborate and create with others while on a device?
My thoughts are not based on “how much” time our students have in front of a screen. My focus is, what does our time in front of screens entail?
If we have students using screens solely for the use of consumption, that is a huge opportunity lost. But if we focus on students having ample time for meaningful creation in their learning, that changes what the time looks like in front of a screen.
This quote from the “Center for Accelerated Learning” has always resonated with me regarding the importance of “creation” for learning.
When I use the term “meaningful creation,” it is essential that it is meaningful to the student, not only the teacher. If you would have asked me as a student, do I see myself as an author in the future, I would have laughed. But I have come to love writing because I have the consistent opportunity to write about things that I am interested in discussing. That “voice and choice” in my learning matters, as it does for our students.
I recently observed students participating in a photo scavenger hunt for their teacher on the school property. Yes, they were on their phones, but they were having conversations with their peers discussing what they were finding and what they wanted to highlight. It was a collaborative endeavor where students were outside, observing nature, while also having access to technology, collecting and creating evidence of learning. It was powerful to see some of the conversations students were having with one another while watching them making connections in their learning.
The question for “screen time” in schools should be less focused on “how much,” and more on “how meaningful.” Is the learning in front of a screen active, collaborative, and creative, or is focused mostly on consumption? As John Spencer shares, critical consumption is an integral part of the learning process, but the opportunity for meaningful creation is something that we need to focus on both with and without devices.