Parents are increasingly concerned about the amount of screen time students have been exposed to due to school at home. While these concerns are understandable, they are not necessarily rooted to evidence. There are multiple studies conducted on the effects of screen time and taking a deeper dive into these we can draw up some conclusions.
Whether screen time is good or bad is actually the wrong question to ask as the term ‘screen time’ is rather broad and doesn’t tell us how an individual is using his/her screen. The content being consumed will determine whether it is good or bad for the individual.
Unfortunately, most of the research on screen time lumps the good and bad together and then makes a generalized conclusion about all types of screen time. It mixes watching TV, playing video games, using computers for homework and other activities, then tells us the overall effect of screen time. But watching TV doesn’t have the same effects on a child as studying on the computer.
Fortunately, some researchers have started to separately report on the effects of screen time based on the content and context of screen use. The findings were that screen time can be separated into 4 categories:
1. Passive Screen Time: Watching content on TV, DVD or streaming platform
2. Socio-recreational Screen Time: Social networking sites and apps, surfing the internet for leisure
3. Game Screen Time: Playing video games or virtual games
4. Educational Screen Time: Using screens for studying, homework or online learning just like school at home
It was found that different types of screen time did not report the same effects. Among children, high amounts of passive and socio-recreational screen time were associated with poor sleep, reduced physical activity, lowered social-emotional health, internet addiction and poor academic performance.
Findings regarding gaming were not conclusive in the research. Maybe, the content of the gaming matters. Games that are violent and purely recreational may not have good effects, while games that promote intellectual or physical activity might not be bad.
Most importantly, there was no conclusive finding from the research showing that educational screen time, such as school at home, is associated with any negative physiological or psychological outcomes. In fact, large scale studies on online and computer-assisted learning have unanimously found a range of benefits for children.
Research also shows that screen time only harms children only when it replaces time otherwise spent on exercising, socializing with family and friends or sleeping. This concern is not relevant to schools because the school at home only takes up a fraction of the time a child used to spend travelling to and attending school. So, school at home does not displace any other essential activities in a child’s day.
Further, there is no evidence about many long-term negative effects of screen time on vision or musculoskeletal health. Students might experience some discomfort in their eyes or body if they just sit in one place for hours at an end without moving or taking a break. Which is why schools should integrate movement breaks, water breaks, and other such strategies throughout the day.
Not a singular concept
So, we shouldn’t look at screen time as a singular concept. There are different types of screen time that are associated with specific effects on children. School at home is educational screen time. In fact, there is a large body of research that points to the benefits of online and technology-based learning for children. Parents, schools and peers should help their children use their devices and technology more responsibly.
Decades of research have highlighted the significance of learning loss that takes place during summer vacations. Imagine the consequences of pausing learning for months on end in an unprecedented time such as COVID 19. As educators and parents, it is our responsibility to make sound decisions for our children’s future. One’s that based on scientific evidence rather than random opinions and unfounded fears. The research shows that we do not need to be afraid of screens when it comes to online learning and should instead welcome technology and its benefits into our educational practices.
This blog appeared as an article in EducationTimes.com dated 8th February, 2021
(This article is written by Rohan Parikh, Chairperson, The Green Acres Academy on EducationTimes.com)