I remember years ago (many, many years ago) National Geographic Magazine fascinated me. As a curious kid interested in history and travel, I spent countless hours imagining what it would be like to experience other parts of the world, learning about their cultures, and immersing myself in their histories. There was no internet back then (hold the “Abe Lincoln” jokes, please), so I voraciously perused encyclopedias, books, and magazines to learn more about these fascinating, far away places. The venerable National Geographic, with its award-winning photography and exquisite prose, was one of my many sources.
I have fond memories of those times, and I believe most of my affection for those “glory days” is due to the joy I found in the challenge of the pursuit, and how exciting it was to finally validate, or in many cases, contradict the images in my mind. Not only was the challenge joyful, it was also beneficial to my development. The effort required to gain information in the pre-computer era required imagination, deferred gratification, reading comprehension, executive functioning, and motivation, just to name a few. Today research supports significant benefits of all of these to the brain and psyche.
These five traits are critical to a student’s success in school and life. Many of our kids are developmentally delayed in these areas because modern technology has usurped the need for them.
My first viewing of Screenagers a few years ago elicited many emotions in me, one of them being sadness, because I was reminded that our kids will never get to experience the neuron-building joy of creating their own images of far away places or favorite songs, as these are already pre-loaded into their brains via their devices. I learned many more facts about the use of mobile phones and excessive screen time that night. It motivated me to learn as much as I could about the impact of electronics on our childrens’ development, and what we could do to maximize the benefits of technology, while minimizing the negative effects. Unfortunately, as time has passed, what we’ve learned about technology’s impact on our kids paints a much bleaker picture than when the issue first showed up on our radars. In short, the ubiquitous use of screen time amongst our youth has begotten an increase in depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and a decrease in empathy and attention span, executive functioning skills, and more.
Over the next month, beginning with our viewing of Screenagers on Nov. 8 at 5 p.m., we’re going to talk about technology, its impact on our kids, and what we can do to help our kids find a healthy balance of use in their lives. This is an open discussion, and I’m hoping that you will bring your experiences and knowledge to the table so that we can all learn from each other. I have accumulated a number of resources to facilitate our community discussion, and I will introduce those in the coming weeks. For your information, we are also having this discussion at PRA to make sure that we, too, are using screen time appropriately in our classrooms.
For today, I want to leave you with a couple of simple strategies, if you need some, to begin helping your child learn the benefits of scheduling non-screen time in their lives. I’m looking forward to providing more detail on the neurological and social benefits of each when we get together soon.
- Make a “no phones” rule for dinner.
- Set aside screens for a designated time of day.
- Schedule time for free play during the week. (Free play is one of the most important development tools for kids, and it has increasingly decreased every year since 2012.)
- Discuss technology with your kids and devise a set of rules around the time of and content of use.
Thank you for taking the time to read our Miner Mail blog each week. Ms. Baldwin and I are grateful for your participation and feedback.
By Steve Thygesen
Middle School Principal