Last week we had parent-teacher conferences, and as has been the case for the last few years — rather than grades — the majority of parents wanted to talk to me about one thing. Screen time. As in, how much of it is healthy, how do I help my child manage it, and what the heck am I supposed to do?
The average teenager spends 7 & 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen, and while recommendations have been made on specific limits for younger kids, with teenagers, it’s not so cut and dry.
In a 2011 study by the McCann World Group, 53% of 16-22 year-olds said they would rather give up their sense of smell than their favorite technology.
When I first presented this to my 8th grade class, way back in 2011, their reactions were all pretty much the same:
Those teenagers have lost their freaking minds.
But in this year’s class? Not so much.
Sense of smell… I can live without that.
But technology? How would I get my work done? Get into college? Build and sustain relationships? Have any idea what was going on in the outside world?
My knee-jerk reaction was to steer them back to sanity, but when they turned the question around on me, on my job, my hobbies and passions, my social life… I actually had to agree.
See, while you don’t need technology to survive in this world… you certainly need it to thrive.
In a landmark case last January, the German high court declared access to the Internet a basic human right, and the latest research from the Pew Research Center tells us that 95% of American teenagers are online.
So if technology is becoming almost like a basic human need for our kids, how should we be adapting to help them navigate and balance their digital diets as we’re attempting to balance our own?
In the same way we approach nutrition.
Just like schools work in partnership with parents to teach kids about food; making decisions for them when they’re young, giving them more freedom as they go through adolescence, and then hoping for the best when they head off on their own, a digital diet works in much the same way.
It’s not about specific numbers, and it varies from child to child, some choices are healthier than others, and a huge part of growing up is discovering how to make those choices on your own. A recent study from the Oxford Internet Institute and Parent Zone discovered that teens who have strict regulations on their Internet use are more likely to make poor decisions… but then again, so are teens who are sleep deprived, so let’s try to keep that in mind.
Every semester, I start out by asking the students what their biggest health concerns are. For the past five years or so, technology use — in some form or another — has popped up in the top three. Balancing screen time, tech distractions and time management, cyberbullying, sleep deprivation, gaming, media influence, digital footprint and yes, even sexting and pornography. These are tricky topics to add to a curriculum, but luckily there are some great resources out there to help.
I always recommend starting with Common Sense Media. It’s filled with reviews, lesson plans for teachers, and a wealth of advice for parents.
In fact… I spent more time with that pulled up during conferences this year than my grade book.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing resources and projects designed to help kids analyze the influence of technology — with all of its opportunities and challenges — on our physical, social, mental and emotional health.
Next week: Procrastination and managing your tech distractions
About the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at thehealthteacher.com and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.