Screen Time and School Performance: Striking a Healthy Balance

with Susan Bearden of the Consortium for School Networking

Approximately 40% of parents report that their child owns a smartphone. While certain media can be harmful to a student’s academic performance, recent findings suggest that not all screen time is created equal.

Susan Bearden, Chief Innovation Officer of the Consortium for School Networking, delves into the debate over excessive screen time and its impact on children’s performance at school.

Posted on:

December 02, 2019

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Pai Hong: 98% of American children under the age of 8 have access to some type of mobile device at home. Today's children spend time on many screens -- computers, tablets, mobile phones, television, video games -- but at what cost? Hello. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Ellee Pai Hong. While some scholars argue the negative effects of excessive screen time, recent studies suggest that not all screen time is created equally. Susan Bearden -- she is Chief Innovation Officer of the Consortium for School Networking -- joins me to discuss the debate over screen time, and its impact on children's performance at school. Susan, thanks so much for coming in, appreciate your time today.

Bearden: Great. It's great to be here, Ellee.

Pai Hong: Bottom line is not all screen time is created equal. I know early on, we heard about all these stories about how it could lead to obesity sometimes, social anxiety, depression. That's not always the case, though -- studies are now showing something different, right?

Bearden: Mm-hmm, absolutely. And, really, what it comes down to, Ellee, is it's about balance. And I remember growing up as a child in the '70s and '80s. We heard the same concerns about television, and there's concerns about how much time you were watching television. But what really matters is the quality of what you were watching on television. There's a difference between watching "Sesame Street" versus, you know, watching some mindless cartoon, or something silly like that.

Pai Hong: Mm-hmm.

Bearden: And it's the same way with technology usage. There's a big difference between, say, using technology passively, where students are playing video games or scrolling through social-media feeds or just filling out an online PDF worksheet, versus using technology in active ways -- to create and to collaborate and to engage in more active learning content.

Pai Hong: And I just want to differentiate here, because we're not talking about young babies and toddlers -- we're talking about school-aged children that can really take advantage of the tools that are available online. And it actually really helps teachers individualize lesson plans.

Bearden: Yes.

Pai Hong: And with classroom sizes getting so big, it's a huge advantage.

Bearden: Absolutely. And it's important that our students learn these important digital literacies to function in our modern society. When you think about it, in the modern workplace, students are expected to collaborate with others online, in online spaces. I do that every day in my job. They're expected to understand how to communicate appropriately and how to be good digital citizens in the online spaces. So school can provide valuable opportunities for students to learn these skills under the guidance of a caring adult.

Pai Hong: And there's a digital equity component of this debate because a lot of proponents of, "This is too much screen time," tend to be affluent families.

Bearden: Mm-hmm.

Pai Hong: But there are a lot of families who aren't affluent who are missing out on these digital skills that you need to learn.

Bearden: Absolutely. It's important to remember there still significant areas of our country where families may not have home Internet access. And I know that may seem hard to believe if you're living in a city, but if you're living in a rural area, or if you're a low-income family and you can't afford online access, then you may not have access to, say, a laptop or a device with a keyboard at home. Most American children have access to a phone at home, but that's very different from being able to use a keyboard or a laptop or another device that's more appropriate for learning. So there are important digital literacy skills just coming down to basics of how to use a mouse or how to use a keyboard that lower-income students may not be able to learn before they come to school. But yet, then they come to school, and then they're expected to, say, take tests online, or to engage in online platforms. So it's important to remember that it's not just to look at digital technologies from one perspective.

Pai Hong: And it's not just about the small screen, but it's about the computer...

Bearden: Absolutely....because you learn -- you know, typing like this doesn't translate to typing like this, does it?
Bearden: No, absolutely not.

Pai Hong: Yeah. Yeah. You know, another interesting component is that some educational games -- developers call it "educational games," but they're being gamified. So where do you draw the line there? And how concerned do you have to be about that?

Bearden: That's a great question, and I think it's entirely appropriate for parents to ask teachers if their children are using educational games in the classroom, how they're being used, and what are the learning goals. For instance, not all games are created equal. There are gaming ways to gamify education where students are learning incredibly valuable skills. And then there's also maybe some -- what we would call "drill and kill apps," perhaps, where students are just learning facts or memorizing other things and, sometimes, being used - gamification can be used to help learn those skills, but that's not necessarily always the only exposure you want students to have with technology. So, like I said, it all comes down to having a balance.

Pai Hong: As with everything in life, right? Bearden: Yes.

Pai Hong: Not too much of one or the other. It's all about balance.

Bearden: Yes.

Pai Hong: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate your time, Susan Bearden.

Bearden: Thank you.

Pai Hong: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Ellee Pai Hong.

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