Is all screen time equal?

If you haven’t heard yet, Fortnite, the latest teen video game craze is “destroying schools”. At least, that’s what attention grabbing headlines are saying. But is it? It’s interactive and social, but also kind of addictive and violent, so as with many things tech, there’s some good and some bad. More than ever, parents and teachers wonder and worry about the amount of time kids are spending/wasting on screens. It’s definitely something we should be grappling with, but all screen time is not equal. Time spent consuming is usually less valuable than time spent creating, making connections, learning and collaborating. Time spent obsessing over likes and streaks can be downright harmful to our mental health.

I was reminded how much making distinctions about screen time matters from Shauna Keating’s talk at the UVA Hacking Diversity hackathon. She was sharing some of the things she has been told in real life as she pursued her passion in tech:

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via kimwilkens (coding a game with Scratch)
  • Why don’t you be a teacher. (because she liked math)
  • Hmm, I don’t think we have any coding classes. (they did)
  • Oh you’re a designer. That’s cute.
  • Get off the computer.

That last one came from her parents. Shauna had to struggle for computer time to code because they didn’t understand what coding was and to them, all screen time was the same.

I really like the advice from Stuart Dredge is his blog post: Six Screen-Time Studies That Changed My Parenting Approach. One key thing he realized is that he often treated his kids screen time as time when he could get other stuff done. He found that “actively engaging in exploring the digital world together” helped him better connect with his kids and understand what they were doing. This is helping him make better decisions about what kind of screen time is better than others. The line of communication he has opened through this interaction with his kids will be crucial in working with them to set technology use guidelines and support them as they navigate the inevitable digital pitfalls that will follow as they become more independent.

Want to learn more about the good, the bad and the ugly of screen time? Check out these resources:

Written by

technology activist (miss-bit.com), Tech-Girls founder (tech-girls.org)

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