School districts across the nation are passing resolutions and funding to add tablets, such as iPads, to school curricula. Recently, my children’s own district voted all students in third grade and above will be given iPads by the district for use in school and to take home. As a self-proclaimed tech parent, I was thrilled! I am excited to see how the teachers incorporate the iPads into their lesson plans and how this technology can help my kids learn. But I will also admit I am a little worried!
My concerns range from the amount of screen time my kids will now have each day to how I can ensure they treat their new tablets with respect and take care of them. The American Association of Pediatricians states, “Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.” But if my kids are spending much of their school day on tablets and/or computers, how am I to enforce these guidelines?
The first step is keeping communication lines open with teachers, principals and other district personnel. While going to a PTA meeting isn’t my favorite activity, that is a place I can voice my concerns and learn more about what precautions the school and district plan to take. I stay in contact with our teachers, learning about what they are showing the kids on the tablets and how we can work on the same activities at home. There are certain apps and games (such as Xtreme Math), which the teachers use in the classroom and we can also encourage at home.
In terms of cutting down screen time, the inevitable answer for us has been cutting the amount of time spent in front of games and the TV at home. And let me tell you, this is a STRUGGLE! I am a working mom, and I often work out of my home, where putting on a movie or show is a necessity to get emails done or complete work on a deadline. But if there are other options, such as going for a bike ride or playing in the backyard, we are trying to take advantage of them. Screen time is mostly used for schoolwork and for small breaks during the day, but play time is happening in the real world. Also, as a gaming family, we make sure if the kids do want to spend their free time playing video games, we are all doing it together. You’ll often find us all squished together on the couch for an evening of Mario Kart or sharing worlds we’ve created in Minecraft. We try to make game time equal family togetherness time!
A concern for me as a parent is what all this screen time is doing to my child’s developing brain. There are a lot of theories floating around about what staring at a backlit screen for long periods of time can do to your brain, but at this point, doctors can’t exactly say what the real risks are, if any. One way to combat this issue is to use devices that have front-lit screens, like the Kindle Paperwhite device. My 8-year-old would love a tablet for reading, but instead of letting her read on her iPad, I believe we will get her a Kindle to avoid any effects of too much screen time.
The availability of tablets in the classroom is a wonderful thing, and it will help so many kids to have access to new tools they otherwise may not have the opportunity to use. The opportunities for collaboration are endless and exciting! Along with the initial fervor, we need to work together with educators and other parents to ensure the tablets are being used in a way that benefits our kids.