Let's face it: screens are a pervasive force in our world today, and our kids are not immune to it. Screen time for children and teens ranges from watching television shows to playing videos games to engaging with friends on social media platforms. Young people have so many options for consuming media; a recent report by Common Sense Media states that teens spend more time with media than they do in school.
Today educators are increasingly utilizing screen time as a part of the curriculum. Many schools have iPad programs or laptop programs, two options that not only encourage screen time, but they also require it. With statistics about the overuse of screens, some parents and teachers may ask “how wise is this?”
Engaging Learning Experiences
The truth is that technology provides many positive benefits for education. Students can virtually visit museums all over the world. They can dissect animals online. Solve puzzles. Watch leaders in every academic field give lectures. Virtually be on the ground in a war zone. The educational opportunities are limitless. So, why bother balancing all of these engaging learning experiences with real-life interactions?
Diminishing Social Skills
The same Common Sense Media study that found students spend more time in front of screens than they do in the classroom also found via reports from teachers that students’ face-to-face communication skills have suffered greatly. Some report that today’s teens don’t know how to read emotions on the faces of their peers or miss jokes because they don’t know how to listen for inflection or sarcasm. They don’t know how to build personal relationships in the same way adults do.
Teachers also report that teens who use media extensively expect immediate answers and solutions. This makes the learning process frustrating for students who may need to work a little harder to find the answer to a problem or complete a project.
Schools Find the Right Balance
If there is a "problem" with screen time, there is no easy solution. For every negative aspect of screen usage in teens, there is a positive use for screens in the classroom. The key then is to balance – to use media as a tool for teen learning and interacting with peers. Yes, students have the awesome opportunity to visit the Louvre virtually, but after they make their way through the exhibits, they should be able to discuss their reactions with their peers. Making sense of the virtual experience can include group discussion, critical analysis, and preparation and presentation of a report.
And yes, students may be able to multitask and find information more quickly than adults, but they need to be able to do something with these skills – offline. The balance exists in treating the media as a learning tool. Remember that the pencil and the video projector were tools of learning for previous generations.