by Matt Broughton, Technology Learning Coach
Fifteen years ago I entered my first year of university, like many students these days, addicted to technology. Facebook wasn’t popular quite yet, Instagram and Snapchat were a distant dream and I wasn’t too interested in customizing my Myspace profile. However, it wasn’t social media that attracted me; it was online gaming that captured my interest. I spent most weekday evenings reenacting all the famous World War 2 battles playing Call of Duty, a popular martial strategy game. As you might imagine, spending hours playing online took away time that I could have spent on my studies. I never really figured out how to balance my school life with my gaming life and my grades suffered as a result. I had no guidance on how to find this balance and that showed. So, as I entered my second year, I decided to quit playing online games cold turkey.
Now, as a technology learning coach, parents constantly ask me for guidance on gaming and screen time. Every week I hear questions like, “ My child is addicted to their iPhone. What should I do?”, or “How much time should I let my child game every day?”, or “How can I get my child off their computer at home?”, or “How do I know that my child’s use of technology is constructive and healthy?”. A recent survey of our Gr. 9 and 10 students revealed that they used their cell phone an average of four and a half hours per day. A 2017 Japanese government survey of Japanese youth revealed an average screen time of almost three hours per day for internet usage through a smartphone (this figure does not include non-internet access on smartphones).
None of those questions are easy to answer. Although every parent and child is different and every approach should be catered to the individual and specific situation, one key consideration is the importance of accepting a balanced approach to technology and displaying positive adult role modeling. “A balanced approach includes fostering awareness of media and self, embracing quality media usage, selective single-tasking, carving out times and places to disconnect, and nurturing relationships and face-to-face conversation.” (Felt, 2016). The presence of a digital device does not preclude a young person from having beneficial, wholesome learning experiences if the above approach is kept in mind and applied to all family members.
Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, researchers at the University of Oxford and authors of “A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents,” obtained evidence that the links between digital screen time and mental well-being can be described by quadratic functions. That sounds intimidating, but their findings, summarized nicely by Scientific American and shown below, illustrate how the benefits of exposure to digital devices change over the time the device is used.
The important first step is to have a conversation with your children about their technology usage. Discover what they are learning and exploring through technology, how much time they spend doing so, and help them find some time away from technology. This will allow them to put their usage into perspective. A majority of our students want to have a balanced lifestyle, but they need our help to support and guide them. The graph above can help you apply this advice to your family’s situation as you work towards balancing screen time for your family. And remember, parents who act as a role model to demonstrate the outcome of a related conversation will re-enforce the framework they are trying to provide for their children.
Felt, L. J. & Robb, M. B. (2016). Technology addiction: Concern, controversy, and finding balance. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.