We are inundated with information coming at us from all angles each and every day. After the news cycle we have had these past couple of weeks, it seemed an apt time to talk about "unplugging" and the benefit it can have for students and families alike. We live in a technological age, and there is much good that comes from it. I love reconnecting on social media with students I taught when they were in 8th grade who are now doctors and lawyers, moms and dads and, yes, some are actually grandparents. I also appreciate the ability to respond to email at any hour I need to (although there is a clear and obvious drawback there as well), and binge watching a favorite show on television is something I could never have done before On Demand or Netflix.
But I also know that all of that screen time and time spent plugged in has a cost; I’m less connected physically to others, there is anxiety that the technology brings, and I don’t have the kind of time for mindfulness, rest and relaxation that I once had. We aren’t going to get rid of our devices, nor do we really want to, but we can use them wisely and get our children to do the same.
In 2014, UCLA researchers studied two groups of sixth-graders from a Southern California public school. They sent one group to an outdoor education camp for five days with no tech, and the other group continued on, business as usual (nprEd, 2014). What the researchers found -- even in that short period of time -- was that students who went to outdoor camp scored significantly higher in reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to stay on their devices. This is critical for all of us to recognize, as creating that human connection is so important in life, love and happiness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that a 2013 study found that 8-10 year olds spend nearly 8 hours a day on different media, and older children spend more than 11 hours per day. The AAP has recommendations about screen time (www.aap.org) including that children under 2 should have no screen exposure at all.
I am certainly not saying we get rid of screens or technology! Our students need to use technology successfully if they are to be employable in our 21st Century world. I am saying we all need to be mindful of that time. Is the screen use necessary? Is it building students’ abilities to create, communicate, be critical thinkers and collaborate? Or is it just mindless activity that could be done in a different way or not done at all?
Especially in times like these -- when the images on the news and computer screens can be depressing and anxiety-producing -- a trip to the park, a hike on a trail, a board game or a good book, with phones and devices put away, will help our students relax and connect with themselves, each other and their families in a way an email or social media post could never allow.