Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) found that children aged 8-12 spent four to six hours watching screens. Teens spent up to nine hours of screen time per day.
It’s been difficult to maintain the recommended two-hour tech limit with the introduction of online learning and the integration of technology into children’s daily lives. Students now have more access to computers and tablets in school. They’ve also been expected to use devices for learning during the recent COVID-19 school closures. Some students will continue learning virtually by choice post-pandemic. By now, teachers and students have become skilled at using technology to equitably access learning resources. There is no doubt they will continue using it.
Technology can be very beneficial to students. However, students could be at risk of developing a dependency on technology because they use it for entertainment, communication and now learning. Recent tech-use recommendations for school-aged children include limits on types of media and the time spent using it. It’s also suggested that parents and teachers ensure that screen time does not interfere with adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
The benefits of the new screen time guidelines
The newest guidelines are much more flexible and allow parents and teachers to structure a student’s day in the most effective way possible.
Parents and teachers are encouraged to allow screen time in moderation since it’s unavoidable in today’s technology-rich world. There’s no longer a strict number of hours recommended for students to engage with digital devices. Today it’s more important that students take breaks and put their mental and physical health first, while engaging with technology as needed. It’s also important to teach students moderation and control when it comes to screens, as technology can become addicting. Here are some facts that the AAP has shared about screen time:
1. Pros and cons of technology
Technology has a lot of positive effects on children, such as providing educational content and being a creative outlet. That being said, students are still at risk. They can be exposed to inappropriate content or experience side effects from engaging with screens too often. As caregivers for children, we all need to protect them by monitoring their computer use, setting up protective filters and encouraging them to take frequent breaks from screens.
2. Take screen breaks
Make sure students are engaging with activities that don’t rely strictly on technology. When possible, have students communicate in groups to limit screen time and encourage face-to-face communication. Also, when trying to solve a problem, have students write their process in a notebook before answering a question online. This will give their eyes a chance to rest after looking at a screen for a while.
3. Create screen time limits
Although the general guideline no longer includes a strict time limit, it’s still a good idea to have some limits on screen time. If a learner spent an hour studying or doing homework online, encourage them to do something physical and engaging. This is better than switching over to another device, like their smartphone or TV. Switching to multiple digital devices without a proper break can create overstimulation and cause digital overload. Most students can’t handle unlimited access to screens without being taught moderation first—explain to students the importance of balance.
Teach learners moderation inside and outside of the classroom consistently. Over time they’ll naturally remember to take breaks from devices. Parents and teachers should also connect to discuss techniques and strategies. Provide learners with stability and a better understanding of the harmful effects of digital overload.
Tools that benefit students using technology
Although it’s been stated that it’s okay for learners to engage with technology in moderation throughout the day, there are tools available now to keep them mentally and physically safe while doing so.
1. Real-time web filtering using artificial intelligence
List-based network web filtering simply doesn’t do a good enough job of protecting our children from inappropriate content. Some estimates put the number of new websites launched globally at 380 per minute. Web filtering using real-time AI based filtering is the only way to be confident that content including new sites is filtered, in real-time as students access it.
2. Blue light glasses that help with screen time
When engaging with digital devices, children are being exposed to digital blue light, which is given off by screens. Blue light waves are among the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum. Since they’re shorter, these high energy visible (HEV) wavelengths flicker more easily than longer, weaker wavelengths.
This kind of flickering creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity. That’s the reason it’s used for digital screens. However, the flickering and glaring can lead to eyestrain, headaches and physical and mental fatigue. These symptoms add to digital overload.
Learners can be protected from blue light exposure. Mainly, they should take regular breaks from their screens and interact with natural light and physical elements. This may not always be possible, though, as students engage with screens at multiple points during the day. In this case, they would benefit from wearing blue light glasses.
The blue light glasses block the digital blue light from penetrating learners’ eyes while engaging with screens. They use an anti-reflective coating, which filters out HEV wavelengths. This helps further protect them from the symptoms of digital overload, such as eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue. It also counteracts the increased use of digital devices for learning.
3. Organizational platforms for productive screen time
It has been a challenge going from in-person classrooms to remote learning and hybrid classes. Students keep track of their schedule and assignments throughout the week differently than they have in the past. Parents struggle to support their children in organizing school work. Learning from home with siblings and parents can also cause decreased focus. That’s because students are in a more relaxed environment they have not associated with learning before.
Students need structure and guidance to successfully make it through their day of remote learning. Using a system that consolidates learning platforms, like Google Classroom, G Suite and other apps and resources, in a user-friendly format make the learner’s workflow much more visible.
Hāpara’s Workspace does this and much more. This is an easy hub for student online work projects and digital assignments. It helps make sense of all the digital “noise.” Other excellent tools such as Student Dashboard create a single learner organization hub, reducing digital disorganization and increasing student engagement. Being more organized and efficient when completing their school work decreases the amount of time they spend on their screens.
4. Interactive learning apps that make the most of screen time
When using digital devices in class, it’s important for learners to experience both versatility and interaction. EdTech tools, like Goose Chase, allow students to engage with screens while also participating in fun, interactive, team-building activities. This app allows parents or teachers to facilitate scavenger hunts where teams of students compete to find items assigned to them in the physical world. This can be used in so many ways to get learners engaged and up and active.
By combining the use of technology and activity, students can get the most out of their learning experience. Apps like this keep students moving and allow them to take their eyes off their screens. It also encourages face-to-face communication rather than online communication, and it’s just great fun!
The amount of time students spend looking at screens should not be the main concern with using technology for learning. It’s more about what they are doing while looking at their screens and how that screen time increases engagement and powers awesome learning.
Students should use devices to enhance their learning workflow. Digital learning should not all be screen-based. Let’s get our students deeper into concepts, exploring their world and creating knowledge. Get the right tools, deliver the right content and learner expectations and get out of the way…because your students won’t be locked on their screens when you do it ‘right.’