Let's Talk About Education

Screen Time and Students

March 29, 2022 - By Carlos Pinho Director of Educational Technology - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Pediatricians, psychologists, and neuroscientists warn of potential negative consequences associated with constant mental stimulation from interacting with our devices. Mobile devices have the potential to provide amazing learning opportunities, but they’re also a major distraction. They can foster social interactions and help us build stronger connections in our community, or they can allow us to destroy relationships by hiding behind a screen. In reading “The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education,” the authors describe three important skills for surviving in a society increasingly dominated by Internet-connected devices: focusing on self, tuning in to others, and understanding the world as a whole. Although the authors apply these concepts to the broader realm of social and emotional learning, these emphases also apply when we address screen time with our students and children.

Not only do we need to help our students develop the internal focus they need to know how best to navigate their interactions with their devices and the external focus of what positive use looks like, but we also need to foster our students’ ability to recognize the context in which their interactions occur-the other focus. Discussions about screen time are often about just that: the screen. However, this can prevent students from seeing how their actions fit into a broader system.

Ask students to define how their device use affects the class culture. What norms might the class establish? Can students name different contexts in which they do or don’t want to use screens? What actions could students take if they feel class norms have been violated? How can they work together to find solutions to new problems that might arise? To help students develop this different focus, teachers and parents need to encourage this kind of intelligent decision-making. By learning to see a larger system, students develop a better understanding of the impacts and consequences of their actions in the physical and digital worlds.

If we consider the skills of focusing on ourselves, relating to others, and understanding the world as a whole as a framework for our thinking, we can imagine how the discussion about screen time might shift away from how much time we spend with devices to how students can use that time to become more productive citizens in a connected and global society. What if, instead of asking our students to put away their devices, we asked them to think about how they can use those devices to better themselves and their society?

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