In schools today, there is a growing use of screen technology in the classroom for the acquisition of knowledge. Most schools delay the introduction of screens until second grade, when children start using screens for work during their school day.

Most adults in today’s world use screen technology for work and pleasure.

The latest study says the average U.S. adult uses screen for 5.5 hours a day.

As a working school age professional, the question about screen time is brought up and discussed frequently with other teachers, parents and students alike. At the beginning of each school year many parents ask if electronics are allowed in our program, and how we regulate their use each day.

How much screen technology should be used in our childcare practice?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that screen time be less than two hours a day for children over two years of age. Zero screen time is recommended for children under two years of age. However the latest statistics reveal that children under two years of age in the U.S. consume up to 1:54 of screen time per day. Most of the usage is in the form of videos or television. A recent study of 0-8 year olds says the average media exposure is between 2 to 7.5 hours per day. This is a scale that always that always goes up as the children move towards becoming teens. The AAP goes on to say that the result of this exposure is leading to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders.

My own screen time rose when I searched the web and found a wealth of articles written within the school and early childhood education community about this subject.

Each child development philosophy has their own opinion about screens, and has posted guidelines for teachers and parents on their websites. As an example Waldorf based education says that “the primary reason that Waldorf schools do not use computers is our insistence that young children make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience”. Many of the articles I read have a variety of opinions about when and how much screen use is appropriate. 

I think it all comes back to us as practitioners and what we believe.

How do our classrooms and program, or organizations view screen time?

Is screen time something we have to offer to be a program of excellence?

In twenty years as an educator, I have visited many programs and many school-age settings. Most of the spaces I have visited have some type of screen access.

I first noticed the use of screens in school age care many years ago in my work with children at a local community park.

During that time, I visited a nearby program to do an observation. It was an opportunity to see another program, learn and share some ideas with other teachers. In the first room I was invited to observe, I noticed a large television with a VHS player (as I said it was long ago). The hosting teachers explained that every Friday the program offered a movie for the children to enjoy. Attached to the TV was a Nintendo system, so the students could play games anytime they wanted. Back then this was cutting edge to have a television, a VHS player, and an attached Nintendo. The idea was children could be entertained and have fun afterschool. At the park where I worked we had two screens hanging from the ceiling and used them occasionally to watch movies or sports with the children. 

Today in discussions on screen time, some teacher’s believe that we shouldn’t limit children’s use of technology in our programs. One popular position is that everyone in the world is using it, and how will our children keep up and be productive citizens if they do not use technology in their everyday life.

I believe technology has a place in our lives---it is a tool to help us work and advance our passion. It should not be our only passion. Research says that the average time children spend with screens is two seven hours per day. Those are hours of passive and not active engagement with a screen and make believe characters that are not of the child’s creation.

What it really comes down to is this. What do we believe is our role as a co-learner with children? What are the values we hold about how to deliver opportunities for learning and growth while having an old fashioned good time?

If we agree that the time recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is valid, then maybe we should not add to the daily total of each student by offering any screen time in our program. Instead we could play games, read, build, and dig in the dirt.

In my personal experience, all of the children I interact with own some type screen, and most own at least two types of devices. These children come each day to our program and have a great time inventing, creating, and socializing with their peers without any screens available.

Are they technology deficient? No. They have all learned in school and at home how to use screens for work and play.

There is another observation I have made as screens are becoming increasingly available. One of the unintended consequences of screen access is children’s reliance on screens for engagement. I have noticed that many children have screen withdrawal at the school-age level. They are not of any certain age, as I have seen this pattern in all school-age students from 5-12 years old.

As I observe the children moving about our program, trying to socialize with friends and looking for work that interests them, I also observe something else.

A percentage of the children will spend much of their time doing nothing and just hanging out, while watching others play. They appear to have a fear of trying an activity or engaging with the other children. When I ask these students what they really like to do, the answer always comes back the same. It is either video games or some other activity that is attached to a screen.

I wonder if this dependence on screens has helped them prepare for the world of the future?

Has a screen taken away their playfulness and imagination, and left them frozen in time without any idea of what to do next? 

Have you noticed screen time and it’s effect on children at play?