Photo source: Amy Lauren Smith

What Teens Can Teach You About Screen Time

By
Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Feeling glued to your smartphone? Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th to 8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--collected some surprisingly poignant advice from her class.

Last month, I had the pleasure of going to the Hong Kong headquarters of one of my favorite athletic wear brands. The office director (an old friend of mine) had asked me to facilitate a "lunch and learn" workshop on balanced technology use. 

This is a company that's well known for its culture of wellness. When I walked in, half of the team was just finishing up a yoga class, and inspirational sayings covered the walls. I was in health teacher heaven. 

These are people who really know how to strike a balance. But sure enough, even in this land of mantras and mindfulness, when I asked who felt they might need help cutting back their screen time, all of their hands shot up in the air. 

Granted, this was Hong Kong (which has the highest percentage of smartphone users in Asia), but it was an international team. The people in that room represented a wide variety of cultures and age groups. There were locals, expats, and those just passing through on business trips. It just goes to show that we're all struggling to strike a balance, and it's something we need to talk about more.

The day before, I had asked my students for their help. Having just finished their own unit on technology balance, what advice would they like to give adults about managing their screen time? The kids wrote their words of wisdom on four big pieces of chart paper, which I brought with me to the adult workshop. I hung them on the walls, put out markers, and asked the team to do what teachers like to call a "gallery walk"--take a look at what's on the papers, and circle or star anything that resonates with them.

The advice from the kids was thoughtful, touching, and a little bit eye-opening:

  • Talk to people face to face.
  • Finish your work before coming home.
  • No phones during the weekend unless you really have to.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Look up.
  • Listen.
  • Close all your apps and be with your family instead.

As we took in the words of these 13-year-olds, one thing became abundantly clear. They weren't just writing this advice for random strangers. It was for the adults in their lives--parents, teachers, the people in their community--who were often neglecting the real world for what was happening on their screens.

All of us gained something from the activity, and I plan to do it the next time we have parent/teacher conferences. Today's teenagers are often chided for their screen time, but they aren't the only ones who need to step back and take a break. (In fact, a new report found that parents of teens spend as much time on their devices as their children do.)

Not wanting to return to class empty-handed, I asked my new friends for some advice to take back to my students in return.

Their overwhelming response? Go outside and play.

For a more in-depth look at how screen time is impacting family life, check out The Common Sense Census: Plugged in Parents of Teens and Tweens.

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