Fears And Worries In The Era Of ‘Screen Time’

Screen Time

As the video above suggests (despite the cheery soundtrack), many people have a great deal of worry and fear about screen time and the possible negative impact that it has on us. Plus, of course when you are responsible for younger people, those fears are often exacerbated. Much of the concern is related to excessive time spent looking at screens on a daily basis, particularly Smart Phones.

What is certainly true is the obvious growth of screen usage in the modern times. With a cursory glance around a train, bus or underground; you would be hard pressed to avoid witnessing a horde of screen watching passengers. Perhaps then the fears and worries are warranted?

As the debate rages about this subject in newspaper columns and Internet forums, we can identify some specific concerns that repeatedly crop up, especially with regards to our youngsters. One is that children switch off when gazing at their devices or the television, and are spending large amounts of time being inactive. What impact will this have on their brains longer term? What impact will it have on their physical strength and dexterity? Another fear is regarding attention. With so many alerts and pop-ups regularly grabbing our attention, such as on Social Media, will this adversely affect our abilities to concentrate over the long term? A final theme centers around the effect that screen time late in the day can have on our sleep. Our brains have to work quickly to manage the vast array of images and sounds on our screens, which can then result in a poor nights rest. What impact will this have on our kids in terms of health and well-being? There are many more worries around amongst educators and parents alike.

Image courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kwarz/13974382668

A Good Parent-Teacher Relationship: Crucial

The relationship that we educators forge with the parents of our students is of critical importance. Though the children spend a large amount of their week in school with us, they also spend a great deal of time at home as well. The best relationships are based on clear communication, in terms of all aspects of the child’s education; whether it is their well-being, next steps for their future progression or their happiness. In the modern world, the use of technology that students have and their relationship to it should be a cornerstone of this burgeoning positive relationship.

I previously wrote on this blog about the importance of the perception that we have for the world around us, here. This is absolutely crucial too for our students, when it comes to how they view devices and how they use them. In their formative years, we can input them with our own fears about subjects such as Screen Time or Internet Safety, or we can help them to develop positive growth mindsets about technology where they see their experiences as an exploration-filled adventure full of learning. This could well govern the success that our kids have longer term, in both technology usage and with their interactions with the modern world around them.

It is imperative that parents and educators work together, then, to help our children in the best way possible. It is imperative that we help our students to manage their relationships with technology, and have wholly positive experiences with it. With regards to screen time, we can work with our kids to manage this factor (so that it is not a factor or a source of negativity at all). But, just how do we go about doing this? What strategies can help both parents and educators with this important aim?

Image courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:School_children_with_iPads_(6660064659).jpg

Screen Time Management At Home And At School

Once again, Common Sense Media has proved to contain a whole host of fabulous resources for technology related subjects. Many of the points here, are from the videos to be found there, some of which I will share in this post. Here are some strategies for helping students, sons and daughters to manage screen time…

  • Reach an initial agreement.

Schools commonly have an Acceptable Usage Agreement, which both the student and parents sign. The very best contracts, though, are formed through a conversation with all involved. As Tech Coordinator Julie Davis says, “Spending the first few days discussing and setting parameters for usage is imperative” – Edutopia.org/discussion. This allows the children to take ownership of their rules and truly understand why they are there. These conversations are crucial and can transfer to the home as well (though you may not need to necessarily write down a list of rules at home!)

…they create their contract. They take ownership of the level of professionalism they want in their online classroom – kqed.org.

  • Have lots of open conversations.

From this point on, the process should involve the children and take place as open conversations. Students need to understand how and why their choices have an effect. They need to be allowed to explore, and make mistakes regularly. This is how they learn after all. Again, if these conversations continue at home, then the kids truly experience a holistic education beyond the classroom walls.

Goleman and Senge say teachers need to scaffold this sort of smart decision making. By learning to recognize a larger system, students build a greater understanding of the implications and consequences of their actions in both the physical and digital worlds – Beth HollandEdutopia.org/article

  • Add to your tool box.

The video below draws attention to three useful tools that can be used in schools and at home, to make the process of managing screen time a little bit easier.

  • Scheduling.

Games, Social Media and technology generally tends to be really addictive for some of our kids; especially when websites or apps rely on a little endorphin boost every now and then to keep them engaged. A clear and strict schedule is one way to guard against excessive usage, and viewing screens at times when it could be harmful.

At home, children should switch off those screens late in the day and do something like reading or having a warm drink. In schools, we promote these healthy choices in our Curricula so the children understand the appropriate actions and consequences. As with all life, a healthy balance is also the key. Again, we should encourage our youngest to take part in a variety of activities and pastimes to help them to develop as rounded individuals. This schedule can adapt over time depending on the age, development and reactions of the children in question. This, of course, is absolutely the same case in school.

Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online – commonsensemedia.org/screen-time.

There is a great deal of research into the importance of breaks, both away from technology, but also towards it. Our brains and eyes benefit from time away from the screen, especially when concentrating hard during lessons or when playing games at home. Interest is also growing in giving a children a break from activities such as study, to check into their technology based worlds. Of course, we can also take alternate breaks…perhaps a spot of yoga, or a run around the park, or a little bit of music.

I always talk about ‘tech breaks’ as a way of compromising and learning to live with our need to connect and our need to check in with our virtual and real social worlds – Larry D. Rosen Ph.D. on psychologytoday.com.

Image courtesy of: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/computer/

  • Practice what you preach

So true, isn’t it. Sometimes we ask our youngest to act in ways that we do not necessarily mirror ourselves. If we are to help our children or students to manage technology usage appropriately, then we must also show them how to. In the car? Put the phone down. Having dinner? Have a conversation. Got an instant message? Reply to it later. Tough one, this!

For students to develop the ability to understand the context of their device use, they need to observe positive social behaviors in the adults around them – Beth HollandEdutopia.org/article

When using technology…watch, listen or play together. This way, it can be a family bonding experience, where you are entertained or learn together. You will develop a good knowledge of how they use the technology at their disposal, and you will inevitably end up learning from them. Educators…let the children show you technological tools for educational purposes and add to your tool box.

  • Choose the good stuff

Mentioned in the video above, is this point. As a parent or educator, we should try media first before we introduce it to our young ones to check that is it appropriate and gives them positive experiences. Relating to mobile devices, Beth Holland says on her Edutopia.org/article, “Mobile devices have the potential to provide amazing learning opportunities as well as great distractions.” Let’s strive for this to be the former, as the positive approach that our children and students take towards technology will be so beneficial for them in the long run. What better tools to collaborate, create and learn!

One final video from Common Sense Media, with some final tips about how to manage this issue, so that it becomes a non-issue!


The potential of technology for our children’s benefit is vast and far-reaching, and the proliferation of devices and screens is unstoppable in the modern world. As parents and teachers, it is imperative that we set our youngest up in the right way. We have the possibility to instill positive relationships between our children and their devices, which leads to learning and progress. We can help them to approach each and every new app, game or website with a growth mindset, and grow their brains as a result. If managed appropriately from all sides, the future is theirs to have.

Being a strict disciplinarian regarding technology does not mean that you aren’t a fun or good teacher (or parent). It means the expectations are there – Edutopia.org/discussion.

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4 Responses to Fears And Worries In The Era Of ‘Screen Time’

  1. Hi Rory,

    You outline a really comprehensive list of ideas and tips to remember when it comes to guiding our children/students through the digital landscape in each of their lives. I completely agree with each of these points, and especially love how the first thing you highlight is the strong parent-teacher relationship when it comes to this area. Our influence as educators can only go so far if a different message is being sent at home. Without this relationship kids can learn two very different sets of guidelines.

    One thing that I think a lot of adults need to acknowledge is that although kids appear to “check out” when they are on their devices, this isn’t necessarily the truth. Our brains are highly activated when we engage in different forms of digital and screen media. However, with many parts of the brain still being developed in children, it’s our job to ensure that we are providing the right guides and scaffolds so they learn how to think through and with technology. Some of the ideas you mention here are wonderful avenues for doing this.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Pana,

      Thank you for the comment. Absolutely – that relationship is such a key component of process, and children benefit so much when it works and communication is clear.

      I totally agree. The power of films and television, for example, to help children to learn about social relationships should not be underestimated. It is really crucial in this regard that educators and teachers screen content as much as possible before kids do. Age certificates, etc, are a good guideline – but can only go so far.

      Many thanks again and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


  2. Hi Rory,

    I enjoyed reading this post on what is an increasingly important topic for not only parents, children, and teachers, but just about anyone whose daily life involves at least a few hours in front of a screen.

    I too am concerned about the sheer volume of time that we all seem to spend staring at screens these days. Even at my current level of digital engagement, I am already concerned that perhaps I spend too much time staring at screens. I am thankful that, as a classroom teacher, there are still large portions of my day that DON’T involve staring at screens, which not true for many other professions anymore. And, thankfully, my weekends are not saturated with screens either. Personally, I don’t believe that the effect of massive amounts of screen time have been fully investigated, and I suspect that there will be more unintended consequences (such as the now-well-documented link between “blue” photons from screens interfering with sleep cycles) that are discovered. It remains to be seen what other consequences or health trends can be linked to high levels of screen time.

    Of particular concern to me is the effect of screen time on mental well-being, including metrics like attention span, mood, and emotional regulation. Many researchers share this concern, and there is no shortage of articles both lauding and vilifying digital technology and screen time. Just last week Forbes published this article containing an infographic that summarizes some of the known drawbacks (both physical and mental) of too much screen time. Also included are strategies for balance.

    I think the tools and strategies you discuss to help manage screen time are excellent, and are becoming more and more important for all of us. Your role as a primary educator of younger students is very important, as these are the years in which children will establish many of the foundational habits that will govern much of their interaction with digital technology. I teach high school students, who are well immersed in social media, games, apps, and other screen activities by the time they enter my classroom, and (for better or worse) have largely established their digital technology routines.

    Some of my students are clearly struggling with screen addition (gaming mostly, though social media is also a big culprit) which is getting in the way of their work, daily schedules, and lives outside of class. In many cases this is also affecting their sleep, which is of crucial importance to the teenage brain.

    On the other hand, I also have students who are conscious of their usage of digital technology, and approach screen time more mindfully. They still might spend hours a day looking at screens, but they are more judicious about their selection of apps and how they interact with others online. These students also consciously leave their phones out of their bedrooms (or, sometimes this is parentally enforced as well) so as not to distract themselves.

    The key, as you put forth, is balance. Parents need to be informed about both the benefits and pitfalls of digital technology, and then work out a strategy for how to regulate usage in the home. Serendipitously, just earlier today one of my Linkedin connections posted a link to this NYT book review podcast for Anya Kamenetz’s “The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life” and Naomi Schaefer Riley’s “Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat.” Clearly, different viewpoints, but this only underscores that we (society) don’t really have all the puzzle pieces yet to know how bad or benign screens actually are.

    I could write more, but will leave it here lest I find myself with a manuscript to edit. I think I’ll tear myself away from my screen for lunch, and some good face-to-face conversation with colleagues.

    Again, great post on a very important topic! Thanks!

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you for the measured, well researched and thoughtful post. Balance is certainly the crucial tenet of so much in life, isn’t it?

      So much food for thought here, and thanks again for the comment.

      I’ll also tear myself away from this screen!



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