The students are naturally curious to find out, to solve the mystery of what the tech-teacher-guy does after a day of work: Do I scour the internet at night until late, browsing YouTube or - well, not Facebook, because that's so last year... perhaps I'm a gamer? I must be on Steam. That's reasonable... but not Minecraft. That would be awkward, if Mr. Mueller was on Minecraft. Maybe he programs? Codes all day at home for fun? My favorite stories are Mr. Mueller as the part time hacker.
Most of the Middle Grade students know by now that I unplug when I get home. Much to their dismay, I'm ready to reach for a book or paper or fresh air. I've no interest in staring at another lightbulb for another few hours; my eyes crave something else. It's true, if you really think about it - unless you retreat to the most basic of Kindles, you are staring into lighted pixels for hours at a time. It can't be good for my eyes, right?
There are certainly physical problems that could come from too much screen time. But what about psychological problems? Social or emotional? More research has surfaced this year that too much screen time isn't just bad for your eyes.
In one recent study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), "sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers" (as reported by NPR in Kids and Screen Time: What Does the Research Say?) and again on the NPR-Ed blog: Kids And Screen Time - Cutting Through the Static.
Essentially, a group of grade 6 students were split over the Summer; half had no access to electronic devices - and half were given usual access to screens. Researchers found that the students without access "scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to have access to their media devices."
I've taught students to have a healthy skepticism for any research, to always question findings and look at the fine-print. We don't know other variables about the students, and we do not know the test size (I later learned that it was around 100). The lead researcher also suggested a follow-up study to measure social skills of students after being re-introduced to "normal" amounts of screen time. Regardless....
It seems somewhat obvious to me. I don't need a study to tell me that with less screen time, students will have many more opportunities to learn social cues and read emotions more effectively. But do we put that rule into practice? How do you manage your child's screen time at home? And if you choose to, what are the guidelines?
As stated in the first article: "The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids' entertainment screen time be limited "to less than one or two hours per day." And for kids under 2: none at all. In the NPR blog post, we find another guideline: It is important that screen time not replace face-to-face interactions.
To minimize this, I would think it imperative to first encourage more time with friends, family, and even out and about with our community in general. Concurrently, we should encourage less time on the technology "tools" that seem to replace social interaction. Ideally, I would work with my child on setting limitations on chats and encourage social time whether playing or studying. Is it easy in a world driven by the conveniences of iMessage and eMail? Absolutely not, but my child's emotional intelligence is much just as important to me.
And I plan on sharing this recent video (below) with my students at school, followed by a good long discussion. It's not healthy to expect we all completely unplug, when technology skills are so very important to innovate and share our ideas. But it's always a good time to draw a line:
But what do you do at home? What do you hope to do? Do you have suggestions? Please, share them in the comments section below.
What did Steve Jobs do? You might be surprised. Find out - and glean some helpful guidelines from Silicon Valley CEOs and entrepreneur parents in this recent NY Times article.