Ok. Not such a new or exciting question, but stick with me.
For years we have been discussing the problem of screen-time and how much is too much. The Australian website Raising Children Network recommends no screen time for under 2s, up to 1 hour for 2 – 5 year olds and 2 hours for 5 – 18 year olds.
Great! We have the answer. Discussion over. Close this blog, shut down your computer and get outside with your kids for some fresh air and screen-free time…
…Oh. But I’ll still be here. Because I am using this screen for learning. It is part of my university course. If I close it down, I’ll fail. You too? Oh. Ok…And your daughter is doing her homework on a screen. An your 5 year old has been told by his kindy teach to play Reading Eggs to improve his literacy skills. Mmmm….
Perhaps we need to take a second look at how much time is too much screen time.
As part of my Masters Degree (Teacher-Librarianship), I recently interviewed my 18 year-old cousin regarding the texts she liked to read, watch and engage* with as an inspiration for this blog post. Embarking on the interview, I imagined a delightful post discussing the fabulously engaging books and texts my young cousin reads in her spare time. Not so lucky. While my cousin was happy to oblige, the responses I received to the interview were un-inspirational and left me wondering what on earth I could possibly comment on regarding teenage text engagement. Then it struck me: as she discussed the kinds of texts she engaged with, her hours of screen-time where clocking up to alarmingly high levels.
At already 5 hours of screen time, she was way over her recommended dose, and I hadn’t even considered recreational reading time, or time spent on her mobile phone. Should I be very worried about my cousin?
We place a limit on screen time because we know that sitting without moving is not good for our health. An article in the Huffington Post points out some of the health issues related to excessive screen-time, including aches and pains, problems with vision, and even depression (Leibovich & Samakow, 2012).
Worrying about my cousin’s health, I began thinking, would it be reasonably to expect her to reduce her screen-time to only 2 hours a day? Unfortunately, it would not be reasonable, or even possible if she hopes to pass her first year of university, maintain friendships, read texts for pleasure and watch the occasional bit of recreational TV.
We find plenty of fun laughing at youth’s inability to learn without a screen. But the truth is, health considerations aside, screen-time has remained a taboo subject without considering how much has changed since we first started sitting in front of the box getting square eyes.
Interestingly, although only slightly better for our health, reading books is not demonised in the same way as screen time – for example a recent article on American pastimes stated
More than half our leisure time is dedicated to watching television. It would take nine average days of reading to add up to one typical day watching television. (Thompson, 2012)
This suggests that sitting bent over a book is somehow preferable to being bent over a screen. For our health, reading a book is probably only marginally better. While traditionally we might have argued that book-time was superior to screen time because it engaged the mind and the imagination, we can no longer insist on this. As texts and information become increasingly digitalised, we no longer require books to for learning at all. Most of the time, we are reading information on screens. In fact, with the proliferation of ebooks and personal devices, even book time is often screen time now.
We can’t even consider television watching to be quite so bad as we once thought. Researchers suggest that television watching can offer considerable intellectually challenge:
Critiques of the mindlessness of viewing popular-culture texts such as prime-time television have been challenged by the argument that, in contrast to television programs of the 1960s and 1980s, more recent programs such as The Sopranos require audiences to attend to multiple narrative tracks and interpret shifting social relationships between characters (Johnson as cited in Beach and O’Brien, 2008, p. 780 )
So as TV shows become more sophisticated, can we really say that sitting curled up over 50 Shades of Grey or Mills and Boon is any better than watching a quality television program?
Furthermore, within the new participatory culture of Web 2.0, screen environments might even be more educational than books. Jenkins discusses the diverse skills that teenagers develop through screen-time engagement in his wonderful TedX talk (2010). This inspirational video is worth a watch, as it truly encapsulates the educational value of many recreational online activities.
Screen-time is only set to grow as the Horizon Report foresees the increased use of devices in schools within the next 2 years, and the complete remodelling of the schooling system to favour technology in the next 10 (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2014).
So, on the one hand, we are saying that teenagers should be engaging with screens for no more than 2 hours a day. Yet, on the other, we are proposing a range of highly educational activities which are essential to learning, all of which require extended amounts of screen time. We recognise the educational value in the recreational use of web 2.0 and even novels, once safe from the ‘screen-time’limits, are often read on-screen with the proliferation of ebooks.
So how much time is too much screen time? Perhaps the question isn’t quite so black and white as we would like to think. Yes, screen-time should never replace physical activity if we wish to become healthy individuals. However, before condemning all screen time, perhaps we should try to consider that time spent in front of a screen might be just as valuable as curling up with a good old-fashioned book.
Beach, R., & O’Brien, D. (2008). Teaching popular culture texts in the classroom. In J. Coiro [Ed.], Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 775 – 804). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Department of Social Services. (2006 – 2014). Raising Children Network: Screen time and children. Retrieved from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/screen_time.html
Jenkins, H. (2010, March 6). TEDxNYED Participatory Culture [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFCLKa0XRlw
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC The Horizon Report: 2014 K – 12 Edition. Auston, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcdn.nmc.org%2Fmedia%2F2014-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf
Leibovich, L. & Samakow, J. (2013, October 17). Here’s what a constantly plugged-in life is doing to kids’ bodies [Web log post]. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/17/teens-on-screens_n_4101758.html
Thomson, D. (2012, June 25). Your day in a chart. 10 cool facts about how American spend our time [Web log post]. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/your-day-in-a-chart-10-cool-facts-about-how-americans-spend-our-time/258967/
*Email Interview, 8 September, 2014.
1.What do you like best – reading, watching TV/ films or watching and reading online (youtube etc)?
- I like watching tv/films best
2.Can you talk a little about how much time you spend engaging with books?
- During the uni semester i mainly just read my text books, however over the past year I’ve read maybe 4 novels
3.How much time do you spend reading for uni? Is the work online or in books?
- 3 hours per day roughly… mostly on screens
4. How much time do you spend watching TV?
5. How much time do you spend watching and reading online for recreation?
6. Do you ever combine the activities (eg read a book and then go online to chat about it/ find more information/ watch a film and read the book etc) Can you give an example?
- I research online to find new books that I might be interested in.
7. Can you tell me the last 3 texts/ films/ books etc that you have enjoyed?
- The five people you meet in heaven, the perks of being a wallflower, seven pounds (movie).