On October 4th, the Nantucket High School showed its students the award-winning film Screenagers, directed and produced by Delaney Ruston. The film ran for a little over an hour, enlightening the audience as to the adverse effects of screen time and the risks of screen addiction. To quote its own website, “Screenagers probes into the vulnerable corners of family life… and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics, and internet addiction.” To boil down the message of the documentary, screens are a fact of living in the modern world, but they are overused and have many adverse effects. The irony was totally lost.
To make the irony more clear, remember this film was shown on a screen, and ran over an hour. That’s over an hour of screen time for every single member of the audience, during the school day, while it exposes the problems schools have keeping kids off of phones and screens during the day. Of course, there was no way to get this message to as large a group of people as they would reach through a movie, but it does raise some interesting questions.
How much do schools add to the average teen’s screen time? Are schools unconsciously creating the very problem they are seeking to address by showing this movie? And if they are, is there anything they can do about it? Of course, this movie raises other questions as well. Are video games really as bad as cocaine? Why don’t you have the Brave New World expansion pack for Civilization 5? Do you really believe that kids stare at their phones while having interactions with their parents? And can you spell condescension? But this article is more interested in the first group of questions.
According to Project Tomorrow, 33% of high school students are issued digital devices by their schools, and an additional 56% use their own devices to complete schoolwork. That’s a pretty high percentage, and it is growing every year. The inescapable fact is that screens are going to be used in classrooms and issued by schools.
Zach Hudzik, a freshman at Nantucket High School, says he spends “about three hours” on a screen doing homework every night.
Orion Daily another freshman, agrees. “Yeah, I spend about three hours on screens [for homework],” he said.
That’s a startlingly high number of hours. And it’s not even the half of it.
Orion adds that he has to use his school issued chromebook “in all of [his] classes.”
So even as schools around the country try to address the problem with screen time, showing films to their students to get them to stop watching screens, they compound the problem by turning around and handing out chromebooks, ipads, and tablets.
What can be done about this? There are really three solutions. The first is simple: stop using screens in class. School existed for a long time without screens, and could in theory continue to exist without them. Many schools around the country take this approach, including the Waldorf schools that operate around the globe.
This does make education harder, however. It is more than likely that such a change would be too extreme to come this late in the process for most schools. Another tactic must be tried.
The second is to accept the problem and do nothing about it. Yes, screens can cause ADHD and reduce neural activity in the brain. Yes, they cause children to score lower on standardized tests, but at the same time they are great teaching tools. Things can be taught to students in ways they never could before with screens, and they open up worlds of opportunities for educators. Like it or not, the world is moving into the tech age, and no matter how hard people push against the change, trying to stop it is like trying to stop a bullet with a sheet of paper. It’s dangerous, ineffective, and makes you look stupid.
This solution obviously has its own flaws. If this approach is taken, the negative effects will continue. This approach glosses over them, throwing out the positive things as a smoke screen to hide the negative ones, and saying that the positive outnumbers the negative. Not a perfect solution.
However, there is a middle ground. Try to limit the amount of screentime used in classrooms without eliminating it it entirely. For example, if a project involves answering questions on the computer but not any research, the questions can be printed out and answered with written responses. This is still the favored method for tests.
Even if the second option is chosen, and the problem ignored, schools need to at least move on from the rampant hypocrisy currently present. To show a film on a screen about how students need less screen time, and then hand out chromebooks to every student, is a condescending, hypocritical slap in the face that needs to be resolved.