Another dot in the blogosphere?

Screen time: Not how much

Posted on: September 16, 2019

Ah, screen time. Parents want to know how much time is too much, armchair experts offer numbers, and much of the mainstream media perpetuates ignorance around the issue [examples in this video segment].

When will the fear-mongering stop? If the constant refrain from the Pessimists Archive podcast is correct, the answer is that it will not. We take comfort in what is old and fear what is new.

But there are ways to break out of the fear and inertia. One way is to ask better questions.

The easy but wrong question to ask is: How much screen time should I limit my child/student to? There is no magic number because every person is different and a number (if it even exists) depends on the context. The context begs other queries, e.g., when/where to use, what is the screen use for, why it is used.
 

 
Consider scenario A. A person is watching a video on a mobile phone while waiting to cross the road and continues watching while crossing. If you stick to the how much screen time question, my answer is zero if you value that person’s life.

Now switch the context to scenario B. The same person watches the video while travelling to work on the train. I say watch as much as your ride, data plan, wallet, or sanity allows.

Let us consider social learning contexts next.

In scenario C, a group of students decides to meet at a neighbourhood McDonald’s to discuss a class project. They need their phones to fact check, but they get distracted with memes. How much screen time should they have? How is contextual use important?

In scenario D, the same group meets online to collaboratively build a world in Minecraft. This is part of their project on climate change. Again, how much screen time should they have? How is contextual use more important?
 

 
It can take hours to edit one YouTube video. You might be able to watch one hundred videos in the same time if you go down a YouTube rabbit hole. The quantity of time is the same, but the quality of the tasks are different.

If we learn to stop asking the how much question and focus on the how, what, where, or why questions, we learn to empathise with our children and students.

That is my rant. Now here is a real ranter’s rant.


Video source

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