Screen Time at School

Many parents struggle with limiting their children’s screen time. Setting rules can be even harder if they’re using screens at school, too.

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It’s a growing trend in Canadian schools – tablets and smart phones are being used more often as part of the educational experience. While technology certainly isn’t new to classrooms, parents who limit their children’s screen time are struggling to fit school-sanctioned device use into the mix.

“It can be an issue,” says Matthew Johnson, director of education at Media Smarts, a digital and media literacy organization. “As students get older, and they have more and more sedentary time in school, it becomes more important to make sure that theyre not spending too much time in front of screens at home.”

If there’s any place for kids to use a screen, though, it’s in school. Younger children often play educational games, while older kids use computers and tablets for research.

“When they’re used effectively, digital devices can be a huge benefit in teaching a wide variety of subjects,” says Johnson. He also thinks that school should at least somewhat reflect the reality of students’ lives – and that means using screens.

Carla Anderson, a mother of two in Kingston, is on board with this thinking. “The textbooks and encyclopedias we used were so outdated,” she says. “Today’s students have instant access to current information. Why wouldn’t they tap into that?”

Even though kids are using tablets at school, most still want to use them at home. And there’s the challenge: should you let your child use a device at home, even though they’ve been using it at school?

Too much total screen time?

Even though kids are using tablets at school, most still want to use them at home. And there’s the challenge: should you let your child use a device at home, even though they’ve been using it at school?

Canadians are spending too much time in front of screens as it is – about seven hours a day, on average, according to Statistics Canada. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children between the ages of five and 18 spend no more than two hours in front of a screen per day.

The main concern, aside from effects on sleep people shouldn’t use a phone two hours before bedtime as the blue light of the screen can impact our circadian rhythms and keep us up and potential content issues, is that it replaces active, creative and social play. As kids get older, they typically have less of that in school so it’s important to ensure they’re not sitting around too much, whether in front of screens or at desks. “With technology… the issue really isn’t whether they’re using screens but whether they’re sitting,” says Johnson.

Educational first

What should parents do? It will differ, says Anderson, who doesn’t see a problem with using devices at school. Her older son doesn’t spend much time online, so she hasn’t set limits on his usage, but she does watch how her younger son uses his tablet. Her rules, though, aren’t time based – if he’s learning something useful then he can use the device. If not, then he has to do something else.

“My son is really into science… he actually learns a lot of cool stuff watching YouTube videos so I’m fine with it,” she says. “But I’ll suggest other activities if he’s spending a lot of time playing games.”

Ultimately, parents need to find out how their kids are using screens in school, says Johnson. If they’re not using it in a productive and highly educational way, then they may have to cut back the child’s screen time at home.

“It’s probably most important to set limits with younger kids, especially in preschool and daycare settings, when screen time should be kept to a minimum,” he says. “With older students, a more important question might be how screens are being used: are they helping students be creative, or connect to the world outside the classroom, or learn digital literacy skills?”

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