How much screen time is a healthy amount of time for young children? This question is hard for me to answer, as a parent of a four year old and a technology teacher. I always tell parents when they ask — "you know your child and what’s best."
Notice how I just sidestepped an answer?
I do that a lot on this topic because I feel conflicted. I have a mom hat and then I also have a tech teacher hat that I wear when talking about media use, and sometimes I feel like there’s conflict when reputable organizations tell me their preferences based on studies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends families to find balance and to design a Family Media Plan. The AAP suggests that children should have 2 hours or less of sedentary screen time daily. When designing a plan as a parent, they encourage us to consider appropriate sleep time for the child’s age, physical activity, family time, screen free zones, place a set amount of hours per day on media use, and to set media-free times when having dinner and working on homework. The AAP also recommends for parents to co-view media together, engage in digital wellness conversations early on in life and to continue to have those conversations at all ages, and they also share that children who are ready for social media to build a network using family to help build support for when they are in need.
As a mom, I try really hard to limit my daughter’s short amount of time at home to 1 hour or less of media use. I even talk to her about how the playroom is for imagination only, and that it’s okay to feel bored. We joke in our house that if you’re bored then you’re really close to creativity, which then in a matter of minutes results in requests for glitter, modeling clay, tape, scissors, and a lot more craft supplies. With my mom hat on, I’m trying to provide boundaries around media use, just like how I provide boundaries for playing at the pool and boundaries for eating at the dinner table.
However, when I read news articles about the media limits 10 tech executives have for their children, I realize that what the AAP recommends and what these tech giants do are all over the board. Yet there seems to be a common thread: as the adult we must provide boundaries in media use.
As a teacher, I'm proud of the work that our district has made in introducing a blended learning approach to media use in the classroom. Part of the conversation that I have with teachers is what tool is best for the lesson — paper and pencil are just as valuable as the iPad. With my tech teacher hat on, I don’t emphasize time on a device. Rather I focus around this mini mantra: the worry shouldn’t be about should my child be using this device at school, but how is my child using this device to personalize and launch their learning.
"The worry shouldn’t be about should my child be using this device at school, but how is my child using this device to personalize and launch their learning."
I use this mini mantra to help guide me when talking to parents and teachers. While I feel strongly that we need to find the value in these tools, I also believe you can’t just jump into using a device in the classroom on day one. As a classroom teacher, if you want to find success in the use of tech in your classroom, then build the boundaries early on and teach the skills that will last for the years to come — just as the AAP recommends for parents at home.
Educators need to welcome talk in their classrooms about digital wellness, self-regulation, and building balance, and how those skills translate both at home and school. I love talking to teachers about what kind of digital and paper options for reading are available in the classroom. We talk about ways to unplug and how to maintain balance in tasks. In the end, it’s up to each teacher and student to carry the digital wellness torch — but perhaps, that torch can spark conversation at the dinner table that night.
Here are five steps to help any classroom when developing a digital wellness platform in their classroom:
5 Steps for Developing Digital Wellness in the Classroom
- Focus on balance
- Press pause
- Blended learning means balance
- Choosing the right tool for the job doesn’t have to include tech every time
Although I may wear two hats, I know that my child will sometimes use her iPad at school for more than 2 hours and I'm okay with that. I know that I teach in a district where teachers will be providing great learning opportunities early on so that my young child is prepared for her use with technology as an adult. Providing these early tech uses in life can be the lasting foundation of a successful and healthy digital life.
Kara Ripp has been a teacher in the Hilliard City School District for 12 years. She currently is a technology teacher, a collaborative digital coach helping teachers to personalize and blend learning; a role that she has had for the past 5 years. Previous to her tech teacher role, she taught in a multi age classroom for second-third grade and kindergarten-first grade. She is a wife, a mother to one curious four year old, amateur gardener, and a ukulele enthusiast.