Talking About Screen Time

This post will be appearing in an upcoming issue of District Administration magazine. Once it is released, I will update this post with a link.

How do I navigate conversations surrounding screen time in an ever-changing world?

Screen time is one of those topics that is often discussed, sometimes understood, and rarely agreed upon. As leaders in instructional technology, one of the most common conversations we have is the debate surrounding time on devices. When the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in last year and provided some updated guidelines (link), it reignited much of the conversation.

Here are 7 thoughts surrounding screen time that can help you navigate these difficult, but important conversations.

There isn’t one answer.
Screen time is almost exclusively grey area. There is no black and white. Be open to the conversations and take in as much information as you can through actively listening to those with concerns. An empathetic ear goes a long way to understanding the point-of-view of people who are on either end of a divisive issue.

The digital world is an ecosystem.
Just like the physical world around us, the digital realm is constantly growing and evolving. It is full of life and involves ever-increasing amounts of interaction. The culture of the digital world is as complex as that of the culture of your neighborhood, city, state, country, and the world because it is truly global in nature.

The device is a vessel.
Consider the fact that a hollow hypodermic needle and syringe have been used to a) deliver the vaccine which eradicated the deadly smallpox virus, and b) to deliver heroin to those addicted to the narcotic. The problem with heroin isn’t the hypodermic needle and syringe. In the same way, the smartphone itself is not what we need to be concerned with- instead let’s consider the content.

Not all content is created equal.
Content doesn’t live in the diametrically opposed world of good and evil- there are many different facets to consider when evaluating the content that is contained within the digital ecosystem. Is the content for entertainment or education? Does the content allow for passive engagement or require active involvement? Is the user consuming the content or using a tool and creating content? Are you monitoring the content or hoping they monitor their own use?

Not all children are created equal.
Parents and teachers both know their children. They might know different versions of the same child and receive different outputs with the same inputs, but there is one thing they can agree on- no two children are alike. They react in different ways to the same content and same scenarios. While some may be able to handle more time on a device, some may not. While some may come alive with a video series about photosynthesis, others simply cannot follow along. Knowing what is appropriate and effective for each individual is vital.

We are living in a connected world.
Whether or not you are in favor of digital devices, digital content, and their place in the classroom, you cannot deny their ubiquity in our daily lives. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment our head hits the pillow at night, we are engulfed in a more global, connected world. This means that more information than we could ever study or endeavor to know is literally at our fingertips, but we also are tasked with being able to filter and understand that world through the lens of our perspective and experience.

Good habits are learned.
The idea of a digital native is a myth. Just as we wouldn’t hand the keys of a car to our child without a lot of conversations, demonstrations, and guided sessions surrounding safe driving, the same should be true for screens. The fact that they grew up in a car doesn’t mean they understand it’s place in their lives and the importance of careful operation and maintenance. The same can be said of our digital habits and screen time behaviors. Good digital habits must be explicitly taught and modeled if we are to shape modern, self-directed, and self-monitoring learners.