Staying Safe with Screen Time
With a prolonged pandemic bringing the world to its knees in a few weeks time, schools have thrown students into virtual learning. Considering the hectic nature of this pandemic, the health effects of virtual learning are often overlooked. Staying within healthy screen time boundaries can be difficult, for both students and teachers. The increasingly frequent use of technology devices, specifically laptops and cell phones, have raised a pervasive question concerning The Village School’s Global Campus learning: During this pandemic, is the screen time used because of and for school making students exceed a healthy screen time limit?
In 2018, CBS revealed that children and teens between the ages of 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. However, The American Heart Association recommends the new screen time limit for kids to be a maximum of just two hours per day. However, long screen hours have become more frequent as technology usage has become an integral part of schoolwork and homework during virtual learning at The Village School.
“I’ve been at Village for four years and we use [technology] a lot, especially laptops,” said junior Ella Xu, a virtual learning student. “If I’m at home and my laptop isn’t working, there’s no way I can complete all my assignments. Virtual learning definitely more easily tiring and a downward cycle. It also distracts me from getting enough sleep.”
In addition to a mass integration of technology in our school’s homework culture, screen use in in-person and virtual classrooms across The Village School are and never have been regulated or monitored. The Village School has a built-in, 40-minute time period called ‘flex-time’ in their virtual learning schedule, in which students leave their zoom calls and work asynchronously or take a break. However, this policy is not enforced or regulated, leading to many teachers neglecting this time period and having students be on their computers for 80-minute blocks at a time.
“We need to check with the American Pediatric Association to regulate what’s allowed,” said Caz Hubbard, the elementary school nurse. “[The] school should be in contact with [the APA] and ensure that we are within those guidelines for students’ health.”
Furthermore, according to CBS, the rising use in technology can be partly blamed for the increase in imperfect vision, as 6 in 10 people wear glasses or contact lenses, amounting to 60% of Americans. The triggering of low-energy levels and depression is also said to be associated with increased screen time.
“For high school kids, all three: deteriorating vision, concentration issues, or learning issues could be impacted,” said nurse Hubbard. “I’m aware that the need [for] glasses has increased, even the frequency of tired eyes in my clinic.”
Hubbard further mentioned how she has fortunately not seen any severe cases of vision degradation caused by excessive screen time regarding students at The Village School, but there have been some minor cases of irritation that have sprung amongst high schoolers due to overuse of technology, such as behavioral violence or aggravation.
Excluding academics, simply the overuse of technology in regards to media entertainment and social media can have devastating impacts on student self-esteem. CNN reported in early September of 2020, recreational screen time has almost tripled amongst teens during quarantine. Additionally, the Huffington Post in 2017, explained that 60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way. Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills.
“I think we base ourselves too much on the things we get from social media,” said Xu. “It’s not the best forum to do so. It changes our behavior and mindset as well.”
The first step that is recommended to limit the overuse of screen time and keep mental spaces intact starts with close observation and responsibility within classrooms. An awareness across The Village School to take initiative on this issue is necessary.
“Teachers [should start] thinking about linking activities to off-screen projects,” said nurse Hubbard. “[It is] not a bad idea for the school to question or give advice for parents [to] monitor at home. High schoolers work until 11 p.m. at night and, as a result, [during] a whole virtual day of school, [their] eyes are tired. In general, time management is a biggie.”
Additionally, devices themselves have numerous features that make the use of them healthier. According to Healthline, taking small breaks in between long periods of using technology has proven to be extremely beneficial.
“On-screen time restraints by teachers in classes, screen brightness, and breaks to look out the window for two or three minutes can be huge gifts to our eyes in a virtual learning setting, ” said nurse Hubbard. “Also, continue blinking. It’s very natural not to blink when working with electronics for lengthy durations, but it’s definitely important for resting the eyes.”
For homework purposes, these initiatives can be extremely effective to the brain and for the eyes when working for long durations of time. Especially using bigger screens, instead of straining the eyes with smaller ones is a key step to be taken.
“We could make text sizes larger and screens more zoomed in, so it’s less stress on the eyes,” said Xu. “Staring at a panel for hours is very limiting to our eye muscles.”
Ultimately, adjusting virtual learning is about finding a healthier space for the school to accomplish holistic health, fitness, and wellness, in a way that aids students, in terms of screen time as much as possible during these trying times. Besides spending time on homework and working continuously in a virtual setting for classes, extracurricular online zoom meetings, or tutoring sessions, it is imperative to find a hobby and dedicate time to it.
“Occupying yourself with other things and getting hobbies will naturally make you spend less time online, and help you finish the work you need to quickly,” said Xu. “If you have more things, you tend to have a planner or schedule. This way, we can rectify screen time habits and ourselves.”
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