The start of the school year is a perfect time to talk to students about managing their screen time. Although many students have personal smart phones and tablets, for some 7th graders, receiving an MLTI device will be their first experience with 1:1 computing. Suddenly they will have in their possession a wonderful tool for reading, writing, viewing, creating, and gaming. It will be available at school and at home, 24/7, and while it’s a necessity for schoolwork, it can also become a bone of contention in the classroom and with the family.
Excessive screen time has been linked to obesity, insufficient sleep, and social issues for children and teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day. This includes TV viewing time as well as interactions with computers and mobile devices. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, however, only 27% of young adolescents meet that limit. Given that they are expected to use laptops or tablets for schoolwork, it’s unlikely our students in 1:1 computing classes will meet that goal, but we can help them monitor their screen time and become self-regulating. Here are some strategies that may help.
Make classroom expectations clear.
Give kids clear guidelines for using their MLTI laptops or iPads and their personal devices in the classroom. There are times when students should not be looking at a screen but should be giving their full attention to you or to other students in the room. Come up with a verbal cue to let students know to put their devices away. For years MLTI teachers used “close and focus” (or some variation) to let kids know when to put the lid down on their laptops. A similar cue can work for tablets too. Many teachers have students put their iPads and phones face down on their desks when they enter the room and leave them there when they are not needed for classwork. Your school should also establish guidelines for using devices in the library, cafeteria, hallways, and other common areas.
Allow some personal use, with limits.
Electronic devices are a part of students’ lives and we can’t realistically expect them to unplug when they come to school. Work with your team and your administrators to establish a time in the day when students are allowed to check their email, communicate with family and friends, listen to music, or play an approved game. This is also an opportunity to introduce some digital citizenship goals. Common Sense Media provides an excellent curriculum with plenty of free resources to help students learn how to behave safely, ethically, and responsibly in online environments.
Talk to parents.
While our students have grown up with this technology, their parents have not, and many of them will need help managing screen time with their children at home. Most middle schools in Maine have a parent night in the fall when they discuss the MLTI devices. This is a good time to make parents aware of some of the challenges and help them develop strategies and guidelines that work for their families. Parents are excellent resources for each other too, especially those who have older children and who may already have some family practices in place. A few years ago I met a parent up in Aroostook County who knew how to deal with the problem of late-night screen time. She had a shelf in her house where all members of the family (adults too) placed all their electronic devices at 9:00 P.M. each night and plugged them in to charge. They didn’t pick up the devices again until after breakfast the next morning. It was simple but effective, and it made a lot of sense. Parents can also take advantage of Common Sense Media‘s resources for setting screen-time limits.
Model appropriate use.
One of the most effective ways we teachers can help students is by moderating our own digital lives and modeling appropriate behavior. If you expect students to have their phones turned off and put away in class, you should not be using yours. We have a rule in my school that students may not have their iPads out of the carry cases in the hallway. I make a point of using my carry case whenever I’m in the hallway too, even if I’m just stepping into the next room to show a teacher something on my iPad.
If we set clear expectations while allowing students some freedom, and if we partner with parents and model appropriate behavior, our students are more likely to develop healthier habits and learn to moderate their own screen time.