Managing Screen Time at Boarding School

A common anxiety-provoking question that parents often ponder is, “how much screen time is too much?” From toddlers to teenagers, parents are faced with the difficult task of managing their children’s use of televisions, tablets, video games, smartphones—and, within phones, the seemingly infinite world of apps and games.

managing screen time at boarding schoolsParents wonder if excessive screen time will impede their child’s cognitive development, if their child will become socially awkward because of too much gaming, and they wonder exactly how much screen time is too much. For every question there seems to be an array of conflicting answers. The issue itself is daunting to understand, nevermind actually managing it.

Public schools can’t always offer support when it comes to the management of screen time. However, independent and private schools are able to reinforce—or help craft—family policies surrounding technology.

One thing to look for at your child’s boarding school is whether or not it has a dedicated technology policy—one that includes the use of cell phones. Often incorporated into student and parent handbooks, these are usually called “Acceptable Use Policies” (or AUPs) and can play a significant role in your child’s wellbeing.

Managing screen time at boarding schoolsWhen looking at a school, it is important to understand how your child’s teachers use and advocate for technology in the classroom, as well as how they limit its use. At Fessenden, students have a one-to-one program. In other words, one Google Chromebook is distributed to each student in the Middle and Upper Schools. Children are also permitted to keep and utilize cell phones at certain times during the day, because the School believes devices can be meaningful tools to help augment learning.  

But what happens when the lines between school life and home life are blurred? Fessenden boarding students are required to turn in their phones and Chromebooks to residential faculty members each night. The coveted devices are locked in charging stations, but Assistant Director of Residential Life Mac Jackson attests, “It’s not about trust, and it’s not a punishment, it’s about health and wellness.”

managing screen time at boarding schoolsMac explains that between seeking good grades, participating in athletics, and taking on extracurricular activities, students are already juggling a lot. He believes they need time to “recharge” their minds, so to speak, and he doesn’t believe that can happen with the constant pings and notifications that may appear on students’ phones throughout the night. To support this notion, a study conducted by Murdoch and Griffith Universities in Australia tracked changes in late-night mobile phone use over three years and concluded that there was a distinct correlation between late-night phone use and diminished sleep quality, which led to poor mental health outcomes, reduced coping mechanisms, and lowered self-esteem.

“At Fessenden,” Mac says, “we love technology, and we know how important it is for this generation of digital natives. But our primary goal is always to support the well-being of our students and to help them develop good habits related to technology and general life skills.” It’s really not about the technology itself, it’s about the human behavior that comes with utilizing technology.

Entrepreneur Graham Dugoni created a solution to the perceived “smartphone addiction” that is being implemented in more than 600 schools in the United States, Europe, and Australia. His company, Yondr, works directly with teachers and principals to create custom phone-free learning environments in schools, classrooms, and testing centers. They do this by locking devices in secure neoprene pouches. The company states, “In our hyperconnected world, we provide a haven to engage with what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. In physical space and real time.”

While technology seems to have infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives, there are schools that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to ‘screen time’ and ban it all together. The The London Acorn School, for example, goes so far as to outlaw technology entirely. No computers. No internet. No cell phones. Based on a study that reveals an investment in expensive innovative tools had no traceable impact on student development, they decided to seek a natural, no-tech approach to education.

How do you feel about limiting children’s cell phone use? Tell us in the comments section below.

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