For young people today, screens and the internet are part of the everyday. Many have never experienced a time without smartphones and personal computers in the home. Unfortunately, for something so embedded and necessary in our society, in general we do not have the best relationship with technology and screens. Too much screen time and its implications are serious issues facing young people, parents and teachers today. The research is clear, too much screen time can have a negative effect on kids. Increased obesity, disrupted sleep and poor mental health have all been linked to too much screen time. As educators (and adults) we know and understand this and hopefully will take active steps to improve our relationship with screens. However, statistics, figures and potential risks just don’t resonate with young people.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) recently released an updated version of their ‘Growing Up In Ireland’ report in which they interviewed 8,000 9 year olds and their families about life and growing up in Ireland. More than two thirds of the children interviewed said that they owned a device that connected to the internet and 27% said that playing online was a favourite activity. The most common activities were playing games (81%), watching YouTube (78%) and searching for information.

As you prepare to send your students off for the summer break, you may want to consider having a conversation about screen time with them. The increased freedom and lack of routine experienced during the summer will undoubtedly result in an increase in screen time for children all over the country. Telling kids to just stop looking at their screens so much just DOES NOT WORK. Here are some ideas around creating healthy screen time that you can talk to your students about before you break for the summer.

Make screen time green time!

The key is balance. Technology has both positive and negative effects. So, instead of taking a negative approach and trying to discourage excessive screen use, instead, encourage your students to take their devices outside. Ask them to sit in the garden when using their devices (if the weather is good!) and enjoy some fresh air while they watch YouTube for an agreed amount of time

Learn something new

Reducing overall screen time is the goal but we should also consider ways we can help kids improve the quality of their screen time. According to the ESRI report, searching for information is one of the top 3 activities young people use the internet for. Encourage your students to learn something new when they pick up their devices over the summer. Have them talk to their parents about a subject they would like to learn more about and encourage them find digital learning resources together. The internet can be a fantastic teaching tool and knowledge source when co-used with parents!

Tech-Free Zones

Encourage your students to designate areas in their houses as tech-free zones. It does not have to be a big space; it could be as simple as a seat in the living room that is reserved for reading or maybe the dining room table. Make sure they get the whole family involved so no one uses any technology in the tech-free zone!

When talking to your students it is important that you make suggestions rather than rules. The summer is a time for fun and school rules don’t apply! It is also important to remember that every child is dealing with a different environment at home and a different attitude to screen time. If parents and older siblings use screens regularly for recreation, that dramatically increases the normality of high levels of screen time in the home and in the mind of the child. Putting away the device and doing something active or participating in a family activity may not be feasible for some children and it is important to keep that in mind when making suggestions. Zeeko has lots of wonderful resources and advice on internet safety and healthy technology use on our parent advice hub. Feel free to share with parents at your school!

Free 'Managing Screentime' Poster

Download this free poster to put up in your classroom or share with parents. It features the tips in the article above on how to effectively manage screentime.

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