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Students learn smart device habits...from you!

Updated: Sep 29, 2018

Last month, I read an interesting perspective in JAMA Pediatrics on screen time limits. The article, written by two physicians, calls upon parents to limit their own screen time, arguing that children learn smartphone habits from their parents and adult role models. Drs. Jenny Radesky and Megan Moreno aren't wrong.


Photo from JAMA Pediatrics, 2018.

Growing up, I remember my mom cradling her phone between her ear and shoulder trying to calm brides-to-be while spoon feeding my little sister. It wasn't long before my baby sister picked up a toy phone at Target and pretend to babble, imitating mom. Back then, we laughed. Now, as she navigates high school as a 9th grader, FaceTiming peers to work on assignments and Snapchatting me on her lunch break, smartphone use and screen-time is no longer a laughing matter. From digital textbooks to Instagram sessions, the sheer amount of screen-time and its prevalence in our academic and professional world is impressive, and concerning at best. My sister isn't the only student complaining of tired eyes and eye strain, and my parents aren't the only parents struggling to figure out how to best limit the amount of time their child spends on their devices.

As a tutor, I love and hate smart devices. While smart devices allow for information access like never before, they've also become a time sink and attention splitter that no one can ignore.

As a child I remember having to visit the Chicago Public Library to access research articles and research (read: google) various topics I was interested in learning about on my own free time. I also had to wait to see my teachers to communicate with them, or leave a voice message on their voice machine. Today, smart devices have made our learning environment very different. Any child with a smart device can Google anything, and students can reach out to a peer via FaceTime to get advice on math problem. Teachers and students increasingly communicate via online portals, and online textbooks have rendered "I forgot my textbook" an excuse of the past. At the same time, students struggle with eye strain and carpal tunnel and adults debate how to address the increasing incidence of video game addiction, social media use during instruction time, and smart phone distractions. Of even more concern have been the social and emotional issues that social media often engenders for the developing child, no matter their maturity.

Limiting screen-time continues to be one way to address some of these concerns. The authors of the JAMA Pediatrics perspective piece argue that parents should examine their own behaviors and attempt to model a balanced tech-life and by extension, balanced use of smart devices. The authors advocate that parents evaluate their own relationship to smart devices and encourage positive smart device behavior (i.e. evaluating the credibility of the source, modeling polite social media behavior, and encouraging safe practices like not texting while driving). They also recommend resisting the urge to document and photograph every moment, and just be in the moment. This last piece of advice about tech-life balance inspired our Cure for Too Much Screen-Time.

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