Saturday, November 27

Kids need better definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ screen time

By Cheryl Brown * de The conversation

The conversation

Analysis – The pandemic has fundamentally altered all aspects of our lives, especially the time we spend on digital devices. For young people in particular, the blurred line between recreational and educational screen time presents new challenges that we are only beginning to appreciate.

Boy in his bed using smartphone to make a video call.  (Photo by CONCEPTUAL IMAGES / SCIENCE PHOTO / PHR / Science Photo Library via AFP)


Even before Covid, there were concerns about children’s screen time. A 2019-20 survey found that four in five children were exceeding the current Health Ministry recommendation of two hours of recreational screen time a day. This is in addition to the screen time associated with learning.

With locks and social restrictions now a new normal, it’s increasingly difficult to disconnect from screens. Children are growing up in a digital society, surrounded by a multitude of devices that are used for everything from social connection to learning and entertainment.

The boundaries between recreation, communication, and learning are increasingly blurred. Screen time that may appear purely recreational on the surface can actually be important for learning, supporting mental health, and raising awareness of important issues.

YouTube, for example, can be entertaining and educational. It is increasingly being used in classrooms to supplement instruction. But it is used in other ways as well, including to drive social change, as German star Rezo demonstrated with a viral video on climate change that sparked radical public reforms.

In addition, the popular online game Minecraft has been shown to provide significant educational and social benefits. Even games like Roblox or Fortnite, where those benefits may be less apparent, still provide opportunities for rich social engagement and spaces for problem solving and experiential learning.

Are the official guidelines out of date?

All of this presents an interesting dilemma: can we really adjust screen time in discrete categories and should we apply limits to some but not others?

This blurring of boundaries has led researchers at the University of Auckland Center for Informed Futures, Koi Tū, to call for clearer and more detailed official screen-time recommendations.

Specifically, they felt that the current recommended limits did not represent the variety of screen time that students experience. This was supported by a review of the academic literature covering the impacts of screen time.

While research indicates a broad association between excessive screen time and a variety of behavioral, learning, and other problems, the results are far from conclusive and can generally be attributed to other factors.

The review also found that the type of screen time is important: in many cases, the negative effects were driven by passive screen use, while interactive use did not have the same impacts. In fact, the latter can have positive influences, such as better learning achievements and better cognitive skills.

Striking the right balance

This suggests that we should reorient our view of screen time from a robust measure of screen time and towards a better understanding of what children are actually doing on those screens.

While it is clearly important to balance passive time in front of the interactive screen, it is also important to find ways to encourage and prioritize more productive online behavior from a social and educational point of view.

This should also guide the adoption of technology in schools. Rather than being fully integrated into all aspects of learning, the devices should clearly add value or enhance teaching and learning, not simply replace traditional practices.

The role of display devices in classrooms is particularly relevant in light of the PISA 2018 results from New Zealand, which indicated that children who used devices in subjects such as math and science scored lower than those who did not. .

In August this year, the Ministry of Education responded by saying:

Digital devices have the potential to enhance learning, but there are few situations where this is currently the case and many where learning can be hampered.

Active versus passive time

It is true that there is considerable skepticism about the validity of PISA tests, and broader research on the influence of screens in classrooms has yielded mixed results.

However, in general, we cannot claim a causal linear relationship between device use and academic results. Rather than assume that PISA results indicate that screen time is detrimental to learning, we need to consider how screens are actually used in class.

We need to focus on integrating technology that makes a difference and improves learning. Students learn best when they actively participate and create and drive their own learning.

The same principles can be applied to the use of digital devices: limit passive consumption in favor of students being actively creative. This will open up new learning opportunities and provide students with authentic experiences.

For example, instead of students simply watching a YouTube clip to learn about the solar system, they could create their own augmented reality simulation, requiring them to apply their knowledge to correctly position, size, and animate digital objects.

Rebalancing screen time in this way will help avoid the most negative consequences of these ubiquitous devices and highlight some of their unique advantages.

But this will require deeper and more critical thinking about what could be gained or lost in a world where interaction with digital technology is increasingly inevitable.

* Cheryl Brown receives funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

** Kathryn MacCallum does not work, consult, own stock, or receive funds from any company or organization that benefits from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic position.

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