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Goldilocks And The Big Bad Screen Time Part 1 – How Much Is Too Much?

Kids are all addicted to phones and tablets and it's frying their brains, right? Actually, research suggests something different entirely

  • Goldilocks And The Big Bad Screen Time Part 1 – How Much Is Too Much?

In our book TechnoTeaching: Taking Practice to The Next Level in a Digital World, Dr Julie M Wood and I wanted to guide educators to integrate technology into their practice. Based on our joint experience, we asked the reader to consider three elements – skills/tools, content and mindset.

In my experience, the majority of teachers are concerned with the first two – which apps/devices to use, how to be trained in their use and where to implement this into a lesson. But I would argue it is the latter, mindset, that is actually the key to integrating both technology in the classroom. Mindset helps manage how much technology we use in teaching, and in turn can make the virtual world a safe place for our students.

So, how do we create a positive mindset when it comes to the internet? After all the web supposedly wasn’t designed for children. I believe the first thing is to look at how we interact with technology. Let’s take screen use as an example.

When it comes to screens, views seem to be polarised. While parents feel guilty for allowing their children ‘too much’, educators seek to use more screen time in the classroom, all while policy makers are starting to understand what the implications on mental health and wellbeing are.

So how much is too much and is it really an issue?

The recent CommonSenseMedia research piece, Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance reported the pros and the cons based on surveys from 1,200 people – parents and teens. The comparison of how children and their parents felt about screen use and addiction illustrated some interesting mindsets.

As a reader, you might be expecting awful statistics about 100% of children being bullied online and parents revealing their young children are glued to screens all night long. But actually the research and data illustrated that mobile devices “have made no difference to, or even helped” parent-child relationships.

In fact, only “a significant minority of families seems to be truly struggling to integrate mobile technology in a healthy way”. Shocking, right?

The report instead suggests that other factors, such as depression or anxiety, result in prolonged screen time, which then causes things like social withdrawal and a lack of concentration.

If we change the focus and look at how adults use screens (how often we check our phones for escapism for example), it is here that we see the detrimental impact on our children.

For example, in a survey of 8-13 year olds and their parents, 54 percent of children felt that their parents checked their devices too often, and 32 percent of children felt unimportant when their parents were distracted by their phones.

This grey area shows us that screen time itself might not be the actual problem, it’s more how we use it. And yes, in some cases, thanks to causes like unhealthy family relationships, busy parents, mental health and wellbeing issues, screen use is neither healthy or productive, when it could be both.

Part two of this feature, 7 Ways To Ensure Children’s Digital Usage Is Healthy And Productive, will be available to read from Tuesday 5 September.

Better connected

What also interested me was that the research showed how the generation gap between parents and teens led to different behaviours, but similar goals – ultimately many were using their devices to communicate with friends and family.

This challenges the idea of “screen addiction” as something that is actually a natural adaptation to rapidly and constantly evolving social norms.

One of the big issues of online behaviour, cyber-bullying (including sexting), is widely associated with students, but is just as clear on more-adult apps like Twitter.

Responsible use can therefore be questioned on either side although, arguably, more adults are aware of the consequences and repercussions of their online actions, which means a smaller percentage of bullying occurs.

With teens batting their emotions, dealing with peer pressure and not always understanding what they are always doing, this means that irresponsible behaviour online often needs more unpacking in terms of motive and involvement.

Nicole Ponsford is an educational writer, editor, speaker and coach. She is the the co-author of TechnoTeaching: Taking Practice to The Next Level in the Digital Age, and co-founder of TechnoTeachers. Follow her on Twitter at @nicoleponsford.

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