The challenge of too much screen time by youngsters represents an intriguing problem, which is hard to definitively solve. This article delves into some of the nuances of screen time, its benefits, problems and ways to manage it. Some guidelines that teachers and parents can take to tackle the issue of excessive screen time are outlined.
Screen time via electronic media can take various forms such as viewing television, using computer screens and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) and playing with hand-held computer games. Research indicates that excessive screen time can lead to poor social skills, inactivity, sleep problems, negative effect on school performance and cyberbullying. A European study last year found a strong connection between screen time and child obesity.
Should teachers and parents be worried?
Should teachers and parents be worried, especially about the usage of screens in schools enabled through the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model? The BYOD model in many Australian schools allows students to bring their own laptop or tablet for classroom learning. With many books available as online versions or ebooks, the problem of excessive screen time only increases. This leads to the consideration as to whether this problem will diminish in the future. Perhaps not. In today’s digital age, the increased screen usage is in sync with the changing educational landscape. Access to screens in classrooms may help in the development of children by allowing them access to a plethora of information to make better- informed judgements, stimulate creativity, enhance engagement and encourage collaborative learning. However, there is evidence that suggests otherwise too. For example, classroom computers do not necessarily enhance learning outcomes; they can lead to developmental interference and vision impairment and increase distraction. Students even prefer physical books over e-books.
How much screen time is advisable?
The Australian Government’s Department of Health website suggests that the watching of television by children (birth to 2 years) may be connected with delays in language development. The Department of Health recommends that children under 2 years should not be allowed any screen time. Furthermore, screen time for children between the ages of 2-5 should be restricted to less than one hour a day and screen time for entertainment-based activities for children in the 5-17 age group should be limited to no more than two hours per day. But these guidelines specify screen time for entertainment-based activities only. In reality, this could mean that students spend 4-5 hours of screen time at school, followed by 1-2 hours of homework screen time at home and finally, the recommended 2 hours of screen time for entertainment-based activities. A total of 7-9 hours a day! In this case, perhaps the guidelines should be amended, especially when schools do not give a choice to opt-out of the BYOD model.
What can parents and teachers do to tackle this issue?
Ten tips to alleviate the problem are outlined and some of these tips are equally applicable to adults too:
- Set specific time limits for screen usage
- Remind children to turn off devices an hour before going to bed as this may improve quality of sleep
- Encourage the 20-20-20 rule, which involves taking a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. This will assist in reducing eye strain
- Increase screen zoom and font size to reduce exertion on the eyes
- Adopt the 1-2-10 rule, which suggests a viewing distance of 1 foot for mobile phones, 2 feet for desktop computers and 10 feet for television
- Filter out blue light from devices
- Discuss options of reducing screen time with other parents
- Monitor what children are doing during screen time
- Encourage regular physical activities
- Practice what they
In summary, this is a battle of the digital age and the screen revolution is unending with proponents tugging at both ends of the screen! Ultimately what really matters is that children are not deprived of social life, not addicted to screens, do not become device addicts, and are better prepared for life in an expanding digital world.
Ritesh Chugh is the discipline lead for information systems and analysis at Central Queensland University’s School of Engineering and Technology. He is an enthusiastic and committed educationalist who has been awarded several academic awards to recognise his teaching excellence. Ritesh is also an active researcher and has published extensively in his research area. He has been interviewed multiple times on radio talk back shows and received media attention for his work in many outlets such as The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Conversation and SBS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org