On the short drive to my 14-year-old daughter’s school this morning, I looked over to see her scrolling on her phone screen.
“I’m really glad to see you getting in more screen time,” said no mom ever—certainly not me on this early morning drive to school!
In the mobile age, parenting seems to be as much about monitoring screen time as anything else—at least it seems that way much of the time. The nonprofit group Common Sense Media contends that screen time must be a concern. A 2017 study from that group indicates that children under the age of eight spend about 2 ¼ hours a day on a screen. Moms inherently seem to recognize the risks of this sort of media engagement, yet few could argue against the advantages digital media grants the world. Beyond that, digital technology is, of course, here to stay. So, then, what is a concerned parent to do?
We try to do a lot. We set limits, we learn how other families manage screens, and we soak in any information that will equip us to make right decisions for our kids. Recognizing that today’s “children grow up immersed in digital media, which has both positive and negative effects on healthy development,” the American Academy of Pediatrics tries to help by offering guidelines “to help families balance digital and real life from birth to adulthood.” has engaged in the conversation, too, most recently by offering helpful strategies for achieving such a balance.
Still, the issue seems ever-more complicated when students enter school, for while digital technology is ubiquitous in students’ private lives, it also is prevalent in educational settings. An occasional school tries to eschew technology altogether, but most schools necessarily embrace it. RCLS (Rochester Central Lutheran School) does this particularly thoughtfully. New technologies come in many forms at our school—Chromebooks, Smart Boards, tablets, phones, virtual reality headsets, 3D printers, drones, and many forms of robots––and are used by teachers and students, alike. It’s all quite impressive, but what value, really, does all this technology add to an education? If we are concerned about digital consumption, shouldn’t we limit digital engagement in schools?
To answer this question, I talked with RCLS’s technology director, Mr. Corey Nelson, who describes technology as the “tools we use to better create our response to the world and what we discover in it.” Technology is a priority at RCLS, Mr. Nelson explains, “because of the opportunities it gives us to create” and to respond to the world. To interact functionally in that world, students must have knowledge about how to do so. “This reality,” contends Mr. Nelson, who advocates a faith-based approach to learning, demands an appropriate “approach to understanding, respecting, utilizing, and mastering technology.”
This intentionality shapes the tech program at RCLS, where students use technology in content-area classes to access information, assess learning, and create projects; in tech class, where students gain new skills in all technology areas and methods; and in after-school programs, where students may deepen knowledge gained during the school day. Progressively, students learn to make the most of the tools available to them. When asked to outline the progression of skills in RCLS’s tech curriculum, Mr. Nelson describes a program that prepares students to transition from consumer to creator:
Early on, students use technology applications that are approached from a consumer view. As younger students explore applications, they begin to journey down the path of creation of content. As students move through the grades, the amount of consuming decreases, and content creation increases. In the upper grades, many avenues of content creation are available to students, and they begin to synthesize creation by using multiple creation methods to finalize a coherent project. Hopefully, everything is then viewed from a "what can I make?" perspective.
RCLS prioritizes technology because this perspective and the skills that accompany it position students to be creators, to continue to learn, and to excel in both academic and professional contexts, where they can impact the world through excellence. Ultimately, the value of RCLS’s technology program is that it prepares students to create and communicate in the “real” world.
Still, there is that pesky concern about the interaction of technology and child development.
It turns out, technology, itself, is not the problem. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, problems “begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world.” In this, I recognize that RCLS has built the recommended balance into my daughter’s school day. Based on the philosophy that learning is effectively fostered when the whole child is considered, technology is a priority at RCLS, but so are other aspects of a whole-child education.
· Traditional learning methods ensure that students develop foundational knowledge. Phonics; basic math facts and problem-solving practice; quality, age-appropriate literature; fine arts; and experiences with the physical and cultural worlds around together form the core of RCLS’s academic curriculum.
· Physical education and regular, scheduled recess times for all students, Preschool-Grade 8, ensure that students are given the opportunity to exercise and to develop the practice of play and fitness.
· A full array of classes and extracurricular options mean students have cause and occasion to try new activities and to engage in learning and social opportunities that expand their experiences and their sympathies.
· Formal service opportunities and a mandate to serve independently encourage students to develop a sense for care, concern, and community involvement.
· A safe, structured learning environment ensures that students can commit energy to learning and that they never get overlooked in the crowd.
It is great peace of mind to know that our efforts to grant my daughter a childhood that shapes a healthy mind, body, and spirit are reinforced by her school.
Now, I’d better tell my daughter that her screen time is up for the day….
A version of this article previously appeared in the November 2017 RCLS newsletter and on the Rochester MN Moms Blog on March 14, 2018.