For Teachers

5 Ways to Balance Screen Time in the New Year

By Darri Stephens January 15, 2020

We know that many New Year’s resolutions center around the idea of balance: How can I have a more balanced life? How can I balance my personal and professional lives? How can I balance my screen time? Yep, that last one is not just an issue for kids. Guilty as charged!

The statistics about screen time are a bit overwhelming and the long-term effects are still being researched. Yet we do know that — as with most things in life — the amount of screen time we enjoy should be in moderation:

  • The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) shifted their guidelines in 2016 to recommend that children under 18 months avoid screen time; children 18 to 24 months be introduced only to high-quality screen time; children two to five years should keep screen time to less than one hour per day; and that kids ages six years and older should have limits on their daily consumption. Yet…
  • In 2017, Common Sense found that screen time for children ages 0-8 varies, depending on household income and parent education, ranging from an average of about an hour and a half to three and a half hours per day.
  • In 2019, Common Sense reported that 8-12-year-olds spend an average of 4:44 on entertainment screen media and teens spend an average of 7:22 per day — neither of which includes screen time in schools or related to homework.
  • A 2018 Time.com article estimated that adults in the U.S. spend about ten hours a day in front of a screen. 

So, with the New Year upon us, here are some strategies for balancing our own screen time (as adults) and supporting our students with theirs:

1. COUNT IT: Think of your day as a pie chart. How much of it involves looking at or interacting with a screen? From the earliest start of your day to the last minutes at bedtime, how many different kinds of screens do you interact with through your day? Can you literally count the minutes and/or hours? Working across multiple screens (i.e., when you have the television on in the background as you read emails or peruse social media) makes it more difficult to calculate. Even researchers haven’t cracked how to quantify that dynamic aspect of screentime.

2. ASSESS IT: Now digital devices are part of many of our daily routines and the digital world is here to stay. So the challenge becomes being conscious and reflective of one’s daily habits. And it’s not just about the quantity but the quality. Liken it to another popular resolution — that about one’s diet. What we consume on our devices should be high-quality, time-worthy, and enriching. This mantra applies to streaming videos and shows, looking at and posting to social media, exploring websites, and gaming. They don’t call it binge-watching for nothing!

3. SHIFT IT: We also need to balance the impulse to consume with the need to create. Take that slice (or wedge) of the pie that represents your screen time, and consider how to use some of those minutes in a creative mode. The digital world offers amazing tools to help inspire creative pursuits, whether in storytelling, music, videography, photography, design, or drawing … and more!

4. MOLD IT: Another way to use your screen time more effectively is to make sure it is not just passive viewing, but active viewing — for instance, can you watch a cooking show or tutorial video as you try your hand at a new recipes step-by-step in your kitchen? Can you record yourself singing, acting, or playing an instrument to then later share with or connect to a wider audience online?

5. TEACH IT: Now take these concepts, and try to think of ways to reinforce them with your students during the school day. As digital natives, they know no differently than having screens of all sizes in their classrooms and in their homes. So how can you teach the idea of balance?

Consider:

  • Committing to not just using technology “for technology’s sake.” Make sure the technology is additive to your lessons’ objectives (see our blog article on the SAMR model).
  • Creating classroom assignments that can be completed digitally or “old-school” style.
  • Sending home a family survey so that families together can reflect on their digital media habits.
  • Asking students to log their time with digital media for one week. Then ask them to create bar charts to illustrate the time spent in front of or with screens.
  • Sharing quality videos, shows, games, apps, and websites with families so that they can co-engage and co-view with their kids at home.
  • Recommending hobbies, activities, and games that don’t involve any sort of digital device or screen.
  • Instituting a device-free day each week or a time of day to put devices aside to enjoy quiet time or time outdoors.
  • Modeling the behaviors you want your own family and students to emulate!

Here’s to a healthy and BALANCED New Year!

Darri Stephens is a former member of Teach for America and a seasoned educator, with more than 10 years’ experience in Los Angeles and New York City public schools. She’s a published author, who has also worked for education-focused media companies including Nickelodeon, IMAX, EdSurge, and Discovery Education. With master’s degrees in education from both Harvard and Stanford, she’s passionate about creative curriculum development that pushes boundaries, especially considering the influx of today’s technologies. Her most recent positions as Senior Director of Content at Common Sense and Director of Education at Wonder Workshop underscore her love of instructional design, writing, and the ever-changing edtech world — so much so that she has now founded her own content consulting agency, Darrow Ink.

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