Screens in Schools

Tips to keep a check on digital learning, distractions
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If you give your child a choice today to either go to a library and do research or get on a screen to watch YouTube videos, which would they choose? Mine would not choose the library. In fact, most kids would not choose to trade their screen time for research time. But what happens when screens are used as a tool for learning? Research and common sense tells us that if we put technology on a child’s desk at school, we can’t expect them to always use it as intended. Even with the best teacher supervision and online security, there are always distractions and temptations for kids on school screens.  

“Kids are not great decision makers, and they are even worse with impulse control.” says Joe Clement and Matt Miles, high school teachers and authors of the book “Screen Schooled.” “The more we put them on screens in class, the more they are going to goof off.”

Then there is the homework issue. Your child explains that he needs his tablet to do his homework (or play Fortnite), or that she needs her smartphone to text her friends (or SnapChat) about an assignment. Four hours later, your child is still in front of a screen, tired and stressed, and their homework is not done.

Technology is going to be used in our schools, which by default means our kids are going to test the limits. So how can we help them stay on task? It takes a partnership between you and your child’s teacher. Here are some topics to get the conversations started:

1. How much screen time will be allowed during the school day? The average child spends over seven hours a day on a screen. If you are not satisfied, ask how they can reduce the amount of screen time at school.

2. How will distractions and temptations be managed? Ask if online behavior is monitored by someone walking around the classroom to observe screen activity.

3. What are the online security efforts? Ask if security is still active on students’ screens away from school.

4. How do you recognize signs of screen addiction and does the school offer low-tech options? Ask if physical textbooks are available if a child is exhibiting symptoms of screen overuse, such as focus and attention problems, tics, anxiousness or vision problems. Request reducing screen use before suggesting medication for attention problems.

5. Are large classroom screens used to deliver content instead of smaller individual screens and smartphones when possible?

6. How can outdoor time and in-class exercise be increased? Nature is perfect for resetting an overstimulated brain. Regular exercise and movement activities during the day can increase brain function and focus.

7. Is screen time ever used as a reward or to fill downtime in your classroom? Ask if kids can bring in board games, magazines or personal books from home for these times instead.

But the school isn’t the only place where boundaries must be set. Like a coach, your job is to set your kids up for success by setting limits.                     

1. No screens before school or an hour before bed.

2. All screen homework must be done within your view, so you can keep them on track.

3. Screen homework will be done right after school or early evening to avoid late-night use.

4. No screen homework in the bedroom.

5. No smartphones during homework.

6. No screen time as a reward for getting homework done.

7. Pay attention to behavior and emotional changes that could be linked to screen time.

It takes savvy teachers and a solid partnership between the school and the parent in order to best utilize educational technology. In the long run, balanced screen time can lead to smarter kids.

Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce childhood screen overuse. For more information on local events and reconnecting your family, visit