Screen addiction is a real thing with real consequences, and with awareness comes responsibility. Katrine Anker-Nilssen takes a closer look at its problems, effects and possible solutions
I’ll put it out there right from the start that I’m not ‘anti-technology’. It’s too late for that. Technology is here to stay, and we might as well enjoy all the ways it has made the world a better place,” says Paul Bushell, psychologist and author of the book #raisingkids To Thrive In A Constantly Changing World. However technology and screens have reached “basic needs” status in many of our lives. “We sit in front of television screens, with tablets on our laps and phones in our hands. We don’t dare leave the house without a screen for ourselves and our children.”
Diane Pickford, Chaplain of St John’s DSG, held a powerful talk on being screen smart at Durban Girls’ College recently. “Screen dependency leads to addiction, which in turn can lead to unhappy, unfulfilled lives. We are constantly distracted from the present moment, and we lose depth of thought and feeling,” says Diane.
“The best solution is to seek a replacement – getting lost in projects and activities like gardening, pets, arts and volunteering,” says Diane. “And it’s necessary to set boundaries – such as no phones in bedrooms at night or at mealtimes – as well as strategic stoppages.”
It is also crucial to set a good example, as digital addictions and habits project on to others. Children learn from what they see, so when they see us on our devices, or when we give them a device so we can have our own time, they start to copy. “We can’t make this a children-problem,” says Paul. “We need to start acting like the kinds of people we hope our children will be one day.” This means putting down our device more often, taking away the amount of time we let our children be on their device, and filling that time with meaningful conversation and activities.
“It is also good to teach children to limit themselves when it comes to screen time and develop self-control,” says Diane, who believes that although it’s primarily parents who model screen use and norms, schools can help in teaching about the effects of too much screen time.
“There is an increase in the number of schools requiring learners to do a significant amount of school work on screens. Even though there are benefits to learning about technology and being able to utilise technology, a balance is important. Screens should be avoided during break times and adequate filters should be in place to prevent access to inappropriate content,” says educational psychologist Nicola Buhr.
“Schools do need to take on responsibility for teaching responsible technology use. With the increase in cyber bullying, pornography and sharing of explicit content, it is vital that schools engage with learners about the dangers of technology and social media and what the consequences are.”
Screen addiction is concerning. The lack of physical activity together with diminished physical social interaction can lead to further problems. There may also be underlying problems such as depression that are being covered up with excessive screen time. “Either way, it is important to further investigate why excessive screen time is occurring,” says Nicola.
“Too much screen time affects the development, psychosocial and physical health of a child,” says Nicola. Then there is also the expectation for immediate results and effects. “This constant influx of dopamine, from our pleasure centre in the brain, can lead to a disconnection with the real world and its less immediate rewards.”
So how can we set limits that achieve a healthy, manageable balance? How much screen time is too much? “The current recommended screen time per day is one hour for children before high school. Children under the age of two should not be exposed to screens at all,” advises Nicola.
Paul Bushell: 073 200 7219, email@example.com
Nicola Buhr: 082 854 6902, firstname.lastname@example.org
WHICH STEPS DO YOU TAKE TO AVOID TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME FOR YOUR LEARNERS?
“Schools around the world are seeing the results of increased screen time, with young adults experiencing higher levels of anxiety and social isolation than any generation before them. We work to develop our students in all spheres, creating well-rounded individuals who know their own value and are able to contribute positively to our world. Our HOPE outreach programme has a strong following, providing our students with a way to connect with their peers while making a positive difference in the lives of those around them.”
– Jeanette van der Merwe, Principal
REDDAM HOUSE UMHLANGA:
“When our students move to university, no one will be there to monitor their usage or behaviour online. So the goal is to get them to a point of being a responsible, confident manager of their own technology usage before they head out into the big world. We encourage our students’ parents to set up rules for responsible use of technology in their homes. A better question about screen time is not “how much is OK” but rather “what else is important”. A more helpful framework is to consider screen time in terms of contributing to a balanced life.”
– Adam Rogers, College Headmaster
DURBAN GIRLS’ COLLEGE:
“Screen addiction is a challenge, and I suspect that it is even more of an issue at home than it is at school. The reality is that this has a bearing on performance at school. Teenagers binge watch series and this impacts negatively on their sleep patterns and of course, time management. Homework tasks get pushed aside and done at the last minute. I worry about reading. Essentially, time which was spent reading has now been replaced by screen time and this is highly stimulating, but less cognitive. Teens’ ability to read with ease is under threat and even bright pupils sometimes struggle with reading passages because the process is not something they’re practising anymore.”
– Heather Goedeke, Head of High School
“A strong emphasis of our approach to learning is getting boys to work in group environments, creatively solving problems while consulting their teachers for expertise and inspiration. This requires them to integrate different streams of learning and develop relationships with their peers and subject matter experts. If the use of technology facilitates such learning, we encourage it. In many cases, however, technology creates a distraction. Boys are coached about how to use technology appropriately – and encouraged to take ownership over how they spend their time.”
– Peter Storrar, Director of Marketing