Why Screen time for Younger Children Should be limited and Can’t Replace Hands-On Learning

Corona virus has forced many districts to re-evaluate the amount of learning screen time using 1 to 1 computing programs. Middle and high school students can focus and work much longer unsupervised; however, elementary students more easily lose focus and attention.  

Although students having laptops at a young age can boost their tech skills and possibly allow them to produce more creative work, experts worry that too much screen time may affect brain development. “Researchers from the National Institutes of Health recently offered a glimpse of the answer, based on preliminary data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (Radcliff 2018). The MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day. Their brains had premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that processes different types of information.  Additionally, children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests (Radcliff 2018). 

At this point parents may not have much choice, but to have their children use laptops/ipads for hours for distance learning.  Unfortunately, this will likely have negative consequences.  In addition to brain development, students need socialization to thrive and mature. They also need breaks in which they can relate and interact with same age peers. Students may also feel frustrated when asked to complete classwork without much explicit instruction. Targeted lessons should take place before students are expected to complete the assignments and students should be provided with opportunities to ask questions and discuss. At the elementary age, we do not want to stifle curiosity. 

Creating learning pods with a teacher/tutor is one solution to reducing screen time and providing students with additional instruction, question time, discussion time, socialization and breaks. Although this may not be ideal in every situation, it will more closely resemble normal classroom interaction that students are lacking during quarantine. Additionally, encouraging children to do other activities that do not involve screens, such as, board games, puzzles, riding their bikes, surfing, walking the dog, doing arts and crafts will help reduce screen time and keep children’s minds and bodies healthy.