When screen time is actually OK—or not

Research finds some benefits, and also harm from overuse and from certain sources
By: | October 30, 2019
Screen time can be beneficial, says one new study. Other researchers, meanwhile, are finding student use of digital devices can have a range of positive and negative impacts, depending on the device and how it's used.Screen time can be beneficial, says one new study. Other researchers, meanwhile, are finding that student use of digital devices can have a range of positive and negative impacts, depending on the device and how it's used.

Screen time for kids is just like red meat for everyone. It’s bad for them, unless it’s not so bad

Sometimes.

Got it?

A new study by the U.K.-based Oxford Internet Institute found that young people who use digital devices—such as a television, video game console, tablet, laptop or smartphone—have better social and emotional skills than kids who don’t use these devices, according to a story in the MIT Technology Review.

The study also found that screen time isn’t particularly harmful until after five hours of use.


More from DA: The great smartphone debate—do mobile devices belong in the classroom?


And that’s not the only analysis to add some nuance to the screen time debate. Television and video games are more likely to lead to poor academic outcomes than are other sources of screen time, according to research published in September in JAMA Pediatrics. 

“Findings from this study suggest that each screen-based activity should be analyzed individually for its association with academic performance,” the authors wrote.

Aside from grades, screen time is probably cutting into teenagers’ sleep, according to a new study done in the U.K. It found that heavier users of social media get poorer quality sleep, according to an NPR article.

And there’s another bit of research that should also concern adults about the health effects of screen time. A study from Oregon State University found that the blue light produced by cell phones and tablets can speed up aging and cause neurological problems, KVAL-TV reported.


More from DAVoices in Tech—How to use devices in the early grades


What does it all mean? It means that screen time is a gray area, according to Doug Konopelko, the coordinator of digital learning for Martin County Schools in Martin County, Florida.

Writing in District Administration earlier this year, Konopelko offered seven tips to help educators balance ed tech use in their classrooms.

“No two children are alike,” he wrote. “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.”

In Columbus, Ohio, Hilliard City Schools held its first digital wellness month in February to guide students in safe and legal technology use.

“What you’re doing on your device matters,” Chief Technology Officer Rich Boettner told DA. “If you’re spending time reading a book on a device, that has mostly positive effects, but if you’re spending all of your time on social media, then those effects will not necessarily be positive.”


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