4 concepts for balancing screen time in the online learning era

Students need guidance, not rules, when it comes to screen time and use of devices, experts say
By: | Issue: June 2020
May 12, 2020
Should teachers and administrators readjust their notions of “too much screen time” and smartphone use for students while schools are closed? (Photo: gettyimages.com/Elena Malysheva)Should teachers and administrators readjust their notions of “too much screen time” and smartphone use for students while schools are closed? (Photo: gettyimages.com/Elena Malysheva)

Screen time, social media, video games and various other online and digital activities are pretty much the only way students can maintain social lives under stay-at-home orders.

Parents and educators should therefore not worry too much about how many hours students over the age of 5 spend on a screen.

“We have done a good job of terrifying people about screen time,” says Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University in Florida. “The evidence suggests that screen time in and of itself is not a good predictor of anything and that it’s not poisonous in the way we might have convinced parents.”

Spending time with friends and peers is developmentally essential for the well-being of teens and pre-teens. So, adults should ensure that children and teenagers are completing school work, as well as getting enough sleep and exercise.


More from DA: Screen time use sparks discussion over how much is too much


“Kids can go up to six hours a day without any noticeable change in mental wellness,” Ferguson says. “If everything else is balanced, their brains are not going to rot because they’re playing video games four hours a day.”

So, should educators readjust their notions of “too much screen time” for students, both while schools are closed and once buildings reopen?

Here are four concepts to consider:

  1. How educators can encourage digital wellness.
  2. How two districts helped students disconnect from devices.
  3. Why educators need to change their ed-tech message.
  4. How to create a healthy ed-tech culture in class and at home.

Matt Zalaznick is DA’s senior writer.


Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.