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Screen-Time Goldilocks Part 2: 7 Ways To Ensure Children’s Digital Usage Is Healthy And Productive

Today's kids are definitely switched on when it comes to tech, but they need to know when it's time to switch off...

  • Screen-Time Goldilocks Part 2: 7 Ways To Ensure Children’s Digital Usage Is Healthy And Productive

In part one of this feature we looked at the findings from various reports that showed that screen time wasn’t the big scary beast many think it is. And that while too much is certainly a bad thing, getting the balance of technology use right can have many benefits.

So this time we’re focusing on a different report, from Oxford University– ‘A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents – which looks into exactly how much screen time is beneficial.

Of the 120,000 15 year olds asked 99.9% reported using digital technology/having screen time daily.

The paper concludes that more than ‘moderate’ time can be linked with a negative effect on wellbeing, but they estimate this is a ‘small’ effect at 1% or less – equivalent to one third of the positive effect on wellbeing of a good night’s sleep, or regularly eating breakfast.

They also proposed the ‘Goldilocks’ theory – that there is a middle ground between too much and too little. The lead authors, Dr Andrew Przybylski, of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford and Dr Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University, state how screen time is now central to modern daily life and that being interconnected has many benefits.

So, can we keep screen-time Goldilocks in check? Yes! By questioning if the usage is healthy, responsible and/or productive. And here are some ways to do this:

1 | Codes

Create a school/classroom/family screen agreement including what children are doing (active/passive use), how much time they spend on it over a day and if it is age/cognitively appropriate.

Consider what is moderate use and how they can be productive whilst on a screen.

2 | Time

‘Screen-free times’ during the day can help at home. Good times would be around meals and at least an hour before bedtime. No screen use until the morning.

For schools we would suggest you consider how much of the teaching day for students is based around screens (whiteboards, tablets etc).

As well as supporting parents in eSafety, schools could extend this to open up a dialogue around screen time and the importance of sleep. ‘Early Support’ produces supportive guides for parents which can help with sleep (see page 24 regarding screen time), and the OU report referred to above suggests the following guidelines:


  • Video-game play: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Smartphone use: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Watching films: 3 hours 41 minutes
  • Using computers: 4 hours 17 minutes


  • Moderately more is ‘allowed’

3 | Age/stage appropriate

In schools we use age-appropriate films (by law), but we often do not consider the qualities of those movies (and I say this as an ex-Media AST).

Common Sense Media reviews films, video games and apps for subjects and ages, but also skills like ‘teamwork’ and ‘self-reflection’. This means you can help a number of skills and qualities with your classes as you ‘edutain’ them.

4 | ScreenTalk

Ask your young people to discuss their screen use. They need to distant themselves so they can reflect. Discuss being an active user rather than a passive audience.

5 | Multitasking

The CSM research illustrated that, “heavy media multi-taskers have a harder time filtering out irrelevant information (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009), but it is possible that they have other attention issues that result in poor performance.” Although more research is needed in this area, attention and concentration issues often result in poor classroom behaviour, mainly as the children struggle to feel engaged in lessons. Teaching students this, and how to multitask is an area for reflection that will help them in the future.

6 | Ask the expert

If you are not sure, ask someone who knows – and encourage your families and students too. Look at the research, ask edtech experts and paediatricians. Ask questions and find out the answers! The new Digital Competence Framework (DCF) in Wales (curriculum available in 2018) will be encouraging teachers of all ages to understand digital literacy and screen time is part of this debate.

7 | Be a role model

Basically, you the reader (yes, you!) also need to be considering the above. In your role as an educator, as a parent and as a user of screens.

In conclusion, we need to update our sense of online safety and look more about how we use technology. It’s here to stay, so we need a longer-term plan for a happy ending.

We need to get away from being shocked at how many times an image is reposted, or how many countries can ‘see’ something online.

We need to now look beyond the devices, apps and content of the internet and look more to how we approach it. We need a new mindset, at school and at home, so we get it juuuusssst right.

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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