A Screen Fast? Seriously?? Is that even a thing???

A fairly prominent member of the parent community at my former school shared this article that suggests much of the medical community is mistakenly diagnosing children with conditions like ADHD and even more serious conditions like bipolar disorder.  The article further proposes that the real root cause of the child’s symptoms is simply too much time in front of a screen…suggesting even further that a “screen fast” (days at a time away from any sort of technology with a screen) will markedly improve their children’s attitude, among other symptoms.  Go ahead, read the article, I’ll wait.

I will not attempt to support nor refute the claims made in this article because I am not a child psychologist as is the author.  However, as a private school administrator at a highly technological educational institution who, for the last thirteen years, has been surrounded, day in and day out, by young students using technology, I have a few points I would like to make about the article.

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First, my biggest fear is that parents of perfectly normal, healthy young people will read this article, grab it with both hands and run with it, thereby depriving their children of the most educationally transformative tools to find their way into a classroom…EVER!  

All parents must do what I am doing here, and resist the temptation to take this limited knowledge and play psychologist with their own children and implement this “fast” just because a doctor has written an article.  If parents are truly concerned about their children, take them to their own doctor and let the doctor make the appropriate diagnosis!

Next, let’s say for a moment that screens are leading to the issue.  I would propose that equipping students to deal appropriately with technology is a much more worthy endeavor than completely stripping them of it.  This may come as a surprise to some, including the author of the article, but technology is not going away.  Smartphones are here to stay.  The internet will live on.  Our job as both parents and educators is to adequately equip students to succeed in their future, not ours.  And their future will include technology.  And that technology WILL irritate them from time to time.  However, walking away from it for days will simply not be an option for almost every student in school today.  I have no statistics on hand to support this claim, but I feel certain that the percentage of the first world population that does not interact with technology on a daily basis is far less than one-half of one percent…and that number is approaching zero more and more every day.

Now lest you misquote me, let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with walking away from technology for a while.  All things in moderation, right?  But I see no valid reason to force a child to live in a world for a week that looks nothing like what their future will be.  It’s an unreasonable and even drastic approach.  Teach your children how to deal with life.  Prepare them and equip them, but don’t handicap them.  

If you’re a parent who can’t engage with your child because of a screen, I might suggest you have more of a parenting issue as opposed to a technology issue.

If you’re a teacher who can’t hold your student’s attention in class, I submit you have more of a classroom management issue than you do a technology issue.

I recently had a lunch meeting with a head of school who told me he was headed back to campus to deal with an issue of several students using their phones to cheat on tests by Googling the answers.  I suggested he had more of a teacher problem than he did a student problem or a technology problem.  I explained if his teachers were asking questions that Google knew the answer to, they weren’t asking the right kinds of questions.  Instead of asking, “When did the Civil War begin?”, ask something like “Explain the Northern and the Southern common man’s reason for engaging in the Civil War”.  Google might be able to help answer that question but they will not be able to hide their device and type that long question in!  Harder to grade you say??  Sure, but I suggest far more meaningful in the end.

I have no doubt these symptoms are real and need to be addressed…but a “fast” is a band-aid looking for a cut.  Device banishment as a consequence of poor choices offers no real solution to help a child make better choices.  In a classroom, if a student is reading ahead in his/her textbook, and as a result is off task, the teacher would never suggest taking away his textbook as a consequence, right?  How about a “back-in-the-day” example of a student passing notes.  Would the teacher take away that students pencil for the rest of the class…or the week?  No.  Children need to be equipped and empowered to succeed in their future.  I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I can guarantee you, there will be screens.