Screens Here, Screens There, Screens, Screens, Everywhere!

Posted by Lucy Hart Paulson on May 17, 2018

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  • Literacy
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Screens are all around us. Each day, there seem to be more task and function screens of all types. ­­­As a result, we are more dependent on their presence in our lives, and they demand more of our attention. Most likely, you are reading this on a screen as opposed to a printed hard copy. Our use of screen-based media with smart phones, tablets, computers, televisions, DVDs, and screen-based games has increased significantly for us, as adults, and for our children.     

Access to a range of devices has surged in recent years in our homes and our educational settings, and so, children are spending more time in front of screens. They may have game stations, both portable and attached, and have TV sets and/or computers in their bedrooms. Cell phones are now used by younger children. Parents often exclaim how well their children have learned to use screens and are impressed with their attention while playing games or using apps. In school settings, classrooms may be equipped with tablets for every student and smartboards for teachers. Students’ achievement is being assessed using computer applications, even in the earliest grades. Screen use happens in a myriad of contexts, functions and purposes.  

There is a lot of attention to screen use in the media. The latest, greatest applications are described telling us what we all need. Do you have the latest app for managing your smart phone data or for controlling different functions in your home like lights, thermostat, or music?  Also reported are research findings expressing concerns for screens use, the content being viewed, and the relationship we may have with our screens. A quick Internet search for screen use will provide a plethora of links available to you on these and a number of other related topics. It is easy to go down the rabbit hole, so to speak, clicking from one link to another.

A prevalent topic of late is screen addiction, which by the way, has prompted the development of new apps you can use to monitor how much time and in what ways you use your screens. Another thread in the research is the impact of screen use on children’s developing brains, their mood and behavior, their social interaction, and their expressive language. The results, you may surmise, are concerning and even alarming.

Considering the prevalence of screens in our lives and how to make the best use of them in our children’s lives, we need to reflect on our personal screen use habits. Our own perspective and behavior influence our actions as well as the guidance we provide for our children. As parents, are we using screens, such as checking social media and email, during times when children need our attention? Are screens used as a means of managing children’s behavior, like handing over a cell phone to keep them quiet? Does screen use take the place of other interactions that encourage conversation and social engagement with children? Take a survey to see what kind of screen time parent you are:. This quiz was created by Ayna Kamenetz (2018) and is described in her book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.

When children use screens in classrooms, we need to identify what our students are gaining and if the screen use is facilitating their learning. We also need to determine if the screen use is compromising skill development in other areas. Does the screen use create an element of social isolation with limited interaction, collaboration, and/or cooperation? Always keep in mind that technology is a tool and should be used if it is the best choice for the planned learning experience.

What are considerations for children, such as the time they spend using screens and the content of their viewing? Another growing concern is identifying what their relationship is with screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics ([AAP], 2016) has published easily accessible screen use recommendations for children across a range of ages on their website. Another resource for us to reflect on children’s behavior and determine how dependent they may be on screens is at this link: todaysparent.com/family/family-health/9-signs-of-screen-addiction-in-kids. Sarah Domoff and colleagues (2017) created this tool based on findings of a research study looking at the relationship between texting and academic performance in adolescents.

Screen use is ubiquitous. We rely on some type of screen for many everyday tasks and activities. As educators and parents creating valuable learning opportunities for the children in our care, we need to choose the most appropriate strategies and tools to foster the best learning outcomes. Use screens when they enhance learning. Whenever possible, create a context for sharing screens to facilitate social interaction, collaboration, and cooperation. In addition, make sure your own screen use follows healthy practice.

Dr. Lucy Hart Paulson is a speech-language pathologist and literacy specialist with years of experience working with children and their families. She is the lead author of LETRS for Early Childhood Educators, Building Early Literacy and Language Skills, and Good Talking Words.

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