Middle School Learning: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?


by Ms. Tanya Lee, Middle School personalization leader

Keyboard close-up with three smiley keys
(photo courtesy of Adryan Bartlett, Flickr Creative Commons)

In a recent Communication Skills class, I posed the provocative statement: The Internet has done more harm than good. I then asked my students to place themselves on a spectrum that ranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree. I was surprised to see a number of them make their way to the strongly agree side. I encouraged them to brainstorm a number of reasons to support their view and then we engaged in a lively, freestyle debate where the arguments were passionate and valid.

What struck me the most was that many of the students who supported the contention were self-proclaimed gamers and internet “addicts.” Despite their love of the internet, my YouTube junkies and gamers recognize that there are some hazards.

As a parent, I will admit that the phrase “Get off your phone and do your homework!” has been uttered more than occasionally in my house. I am guilty of allowing my sons to use their digital devices more than they should in order for me to have peace and quiet to mark student work or get dinner on the table. I would love for my children to willingly pick up a book rather than an iPad. But, when free time presents itself, they reach for their devices – as do many of my students.

I believe students and parents want to know, how much is too much? I’m not sure how many hours of screen time qualifies as addiction; however, according to Psychology Today, the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

A 2014 article entitled, ‘Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain,’ states, “screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with ‘regular’ exposure.” The article goes on to to say that too much exposure affects the important frontal lobe of the brain, which “governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing and impulse control. A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known as the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion.” So much of what we teach at the Middle School extends far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Anything that interferes with executive functioning should be on everyone’s radar.

Screen time has become a part of our culture. As a teacher who integrates technology into my daily lessons, I could not imagine life without the Internet. I do not believe the Internet has done more harm than good. However, I do feel like, as with everything else, moderation is best.

In the Middle School, technology is integrated into almost everything we do. However, we balance this with class discussions, kinesthetic learning activities and experiential opportunities. Despite our almost one-to-one device-to-student ratio, we still require our students to put pen to paper. Screen time can be a wonderful thing but digital breaks are necessary, too. Balance is essential, both in the classroom and at home.

When I speak with friends, students and colleagues that successfully limit the use of screen time in their homes, here are some rules that they use:

  1. No screen time after dinner
  2. No screen time one hour before bedtime
  3. No devices during family outings or meals
  4. No phones in bedrooms
  5. Family charging stations where phones get plugged in at night
  6. Screen time is earned after homework and chores are complete

Do you have rules around screen time in your home? Post a comment and share how you address this issue.

Tanya Lee teaches Humanities 6, and Communication Skills 7 and 8 at the SMUS Middle School. She is one of four SMUS teachers who dedicates a portion of their time shepherding St. Michaels University School’s plan to implement an integrated and excellent approach to personalization. The personalization team explores current best practices of personalized learning and looks at how SMUS can integrate these methodologies into our programming in a way that provides outstanding preparation for higher learning and for life.

You can also read more about personalized learning at SMUS on The Head’s Blog, written by Head of School Bob Snowden.


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