DA op-ed: How to navigate conversations about screen time in an ever-changing world

These 7 tips can help school leaders address edtech and find the right balance for their classrooms
By: | May 28, 2019
gettyimages.com: Steve Debenport
Doug Konopelko is the coordinator of digital learning for Martin County Schools in Martin County, Florida.

Doug Konopelko is the coordinator of digital learning for Martin County Schools in Martin County, Florida.

Screen time is one of those topics that is often discussed, sometimes understood and rarely agreed upon. As leaders in instructional technology, one of the most common conversations we have is the debate surrounding time on devices. When the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in last year and provided some updated guidelines, it reignited much of the conversation.

Here are seven thoughts surrounding screen time that can help you navigate these difficult but important conversations.

There isn’t one answer

Screen time is almost exclusively a gray area. There is no black and white. Be open to the conversations and take in as much information as you can by actively listening to concerns. An empathetic ear goes a long way to understanding the point of view of people who are on either end of the conversation.

The digital world is an ecosystem

Just like the physical world around us, the digital realm is constantly growing and evolving. It is full of life and involves ever-increasing amounts of interaction. The culture of the digital world is as complex as that of the culture of your neighborhood, city, state, country and the world because it is truly global in nature.

The device is a vessel

Consider the fact that a hollow hypodermic needle and syringe have been used to deliver the vaccine that eradicated the deadly smallpox virus, and to deliver heroin to those addicted to the narcotic. The problem with heroin isn’t the hypodermic needle and syringe. In the same way, the smartphone itself is not the problem. Instead, let’s consider the content.

Content doesn’t live in the diametrically opposed world of good and evil.

Not all content is created equal

Content doesn’t live in the diametrically opposed world of good and evil. There are many different facets to consider when evaluating the content that is contained within the digital ecosystem. Is the content for entertainment or education? Does the content allow for passive engagement or require active involvement? Is the user consuming the content or using a tool and creating content? Are you monitoring the content or hoping they monitor their own use?


Read: DA op-ed: Evaluating education technology for the classroom


Not all children are created equal

Parents and teachers both know their children. They might know different versions of the same child and receive different outputs from the same inputs, but there is one thing they can agree on: No two children are alike. They react in different ways to the same content and the same scenarios. While some may be able to handle more time on a device, some may not. While some may come alive with a video series about photosynthesis, others simply cannot follow along. Knowing what is appropriate and effective for each individual is vital.

We are living in a connected world

Whether or not you are in favor of digital devices and digital content, and their place in the classroom, you cannot deny their ubiquity in our daily lives. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment our heads hit the pillow at night, we are engulfed in a more global, connected world. More information than we could ever study or endeavor to know is literally at our fingertips, but we also are tasked with being able to filter and understand that world through the lens of our perspective and experience.

Good habits are learned

The idea of a digital native is a myth. Just as we wouldn’t hand the car keys to our child without a lot of conversations, demonstrations and guided sessions surrounding safe driving, the same should be true for screens. The fact that children grew up riding in a car doesn’t mean they understand its place in their lives and the importance of careful operation and maintenance. The same can be said of our digital habits and screen time behaviors. Good digital habits must be explicitly taught and modeled if we are to shape modern, self-directed and self-monitoring learners.


Doug Konopelko is the coordinator of digital learning for Martin County Schools in Martin County, Florida.


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