Our Kids and Their Screens

by Amanda Proietti, Academic Dean & LCA Co-Founder

During student orientation this year, I reminded students of our rule that their phones should never be taken out during the school day and that if they needed to contact their parents, the school had a telephone they could use.  “In fact,” I added, “there really isn't a good reason to bring your phone to school at all. Just leave it at home.”  

This was greeted with horror.  The mere suggestion that they could be without their phones was deeply unsettling to students and caused me to wonder whether what we have heard about so often lately in media reports might be true: our kids are addicted. (See this article for signs that your child might be addicted to screens.)

Teachers have certainly seen some changes in students over the past twenty or so years.  Their attention span is shorter. They have a higher need to be entertained in class. They seem to be getting less sleep.  And we are seeing more depression and anxiety. And while there can be several reasons for these changes, many of us feel strongly that our students’ use of electronic devices is a major factor.

I may be naïve to think that we can address this problem by limiting our children’s screen time (and our own!) but I am not yet willing to believe that a world in which most of our children’s experiences and learning will come from a screen is inevitable.  Interacting with people and the physical world, reading books, spending time alone and in silence so that we can hear our own thoughts—these must remain valid and valuable sources of learning.  

One way to limit use is to delay giving students iphones until they have developed some judgment about using them.  The Wait Until 8th movement urges parents to learn about the implications of kids' having iphones and to agree to wait until eighth grade to give one to their child.  The organization's website is a good source of information, and parents can even sign the “Wait Until 8th” pledge there. 

Another movement urges parents within school and friend communities to impose a common blackout time.  The fear of missing out compels many students to stay up late keeping up with texts and Instagram posts, but if all activity ceases at the same time, no one is left on the outside.  Can we have a 9:00 blackout time among LCA families? This would mean that phone and computer activity end at this time so that students can focus on rest. 

If we assume that our kids are addicted to their screens, we can also assume that they will not give up their devices willingly.  Parental controls can help.  You might need to collect their devices at night or program them to shut down at the right time.  For younger children, it’s a good idea to have some strategies to avoid tantrums when moving away from screen time.  It's also possible to program breaks in their screen use to ensure that they look up and move around from time to time.

Some families develop rules or contracts for electronic use and have their children sign an online safety agreement.  They use logs to record screen time.  And parents can research apps, video games, movies, TV shows, and books to see if they meet the family’s standards for violence and mature content. The Pew Research Center offers a library of very readable technology research for parents if they are looking for help with a specific topic. 

We cannot go back to a time before computers and iphones, but we can continue to prioritize people over screens and physical play over electronic play.  Having a community with shared priorities and rules will make living our priorities easier.