Screen time: Finding the right balance

December 08, 2017

The focus at HIS on preparing students for future 21st century careers, some of which do not yet exist, informs our choice to be a STEAM school.  A big part of this STEAM focus is our push to increase our use of technological tools for teaching and learning, as well as for solving important problems that challenge mankind and our planet.  While we are proud of our progress with tech these past few years, and look forward to even greater growth and more stimulating opportunities in the years to come, we also have to be on guard for potential abuse and negative consequences that sometimes flow from overdependence on or overuse of the ubiquitous technology that surrounds us.

One thing that we as educators and parents need to be cognizant of is the impact of electronic devices on our children’s brains.  In the past decade, the types of learning impairments that are typical for students has evolved.  The more common diagnosis these days is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some of whose symptoms include inattention, a lack of organization, a lack of focus, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Research from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has demonstrated that children’s brains change dramatically when using technology.  They use the term neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections, leaving behind past traits and developing new ones. While neuroplasticity can result in positive outcomes, such as helping stroke victims recover or dyslexic people overcome their reading struggles, it can also have negative outcomes. The constant stimuli from “screen time” can change children’s brains, potentially leading to increased inattentiveness and lack of focus.  While we are not claiming a direct link between screen time and ADHD, we need to remember that while humans and our brains have been evolving for tens of thousands of years, screens are “brand new” to our experience, and brain research is still investigating the long-term impact of devices on our brains and behaviors.

At HIS, the North Star of our Academic Compass is critical thinking and high-order reasoning, and we have various practices and teaching strategies in place to help foster these crucial abilities.  We certainly don’t want to undermine our own academic and intellectual goals for our students.  But the darker side of technology, especially the increased involvement with social media, can potentially serve to work against our interests:

The more we become used to just sound bites and tweets, the less patient we will become with more complex, more meaningful information…we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth or nuance…”

– Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, Director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University

“We now use the term ‘acquired attention deficit disorder’, describing how too much screen time is rewiring our children’s brains.”

- Dr. John Ratey, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

At HIS, we are continually in discussion to find the right balance between use of and time on tech devices vs. academic and social learning tasks that do not involve devices.  We are careful not to have our students using their technology just to play random games or for non-academic purposes. Families can assist in this matter at home by closely monitoring their child’s “screen time”, setting limits, and steering their child toward healthier and more physically active uses of their free time. 

In subsequent articles, we will discuss the impact of social media, family interaction, and how to be selective with the content of your child’s screen time.

-John Heffron, Lower School Principal

*excerpts from Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids by Thomas Kersting












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