It seems like almost every day my morning newsfeed greets me with at least one “think piece” from someone sharing insights on their most recent digital detox. Almost always the authors want to use their phones less in an effort to be more focused, more productive and generally improve their mood.
In my role as vice president of Common Sense Education, I am often asked to speak on the issue of media balance and students, which is one of the five competencies of #digcitcommit. Increasingly, the question of whether students should be allowed to have their personal devices in the classroom is lobbed my direction. My answer, “it’s complicated,” often disappoints.
The road to digital well-being is a long one, worth the effort and should start early. After all, 98% of 0–8 year olds live in a family with a mobile device. And although I often feel the panic about device use is at times overblown, the concerns are grounded in some surprising statistics. It is impossible to ignore that indeed our culture is changing.
According to Common Sense Media’s research, teens ages 13–18 spend about nine hours daily on entertainment media, and for tweens ages 8–12, the average screen time is about six hours. For the adults in their lives, it isn’t much different, with parents’ averaging just under 9½ hours of screen time daily.
For the first time since we’ve been asking the question, teens told us that they value texting more than face-to-face communication with friends. While 26 percent of educators cite digital distraction as “frequent” or “very frequent” in their classrooms, making it one of their top concerns. And finally, most sobering of all is that 50% of teens consider themselves addicted to their devices.
These new trends were surfacing at the same time the Common Sense Education team was in the process of updating our K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. Because of the overwhelming need for resources on the topic, we reorganized the revised curriculum to put media balance as the first topic covered at every single grade, kindergarten through 12th.
Our guiding statement for the media balance lessons is, “We find balance in our digital lives.” We intentionally wrote it in the first person plural because the challenge of achieving a healthy relationship with tech is not solved by one person making a change; it can be achieved only by all of us taking a close look at who we hope to be in school, at home and in the world.
It is also important to mention that the entire burden of managing media balance should not be shouldered exclusively by the people looking at the screen. The tech industry and our policy makers have a key role to play in making technology healthier for all.
Given that the Common Sense Education website is just one click away, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the media balance lessons in the curriculum, but I am going to challenge you to think of one simple change that can have a profound impact on your classroom, your students, your family, even the cashier at your neighborhood grocery store. I’ve come to this as an alternative to “It’s complicated,” since I too have started to find that answer unsatisfying.
Focus on the person in front of you
The challenge I call you to is this: Pause for people. What do I mean by pause for people? I mean when you’re IRL and someone is talking to you, pause what you’re doing and privilege that human standing in front of you over what’s on your screen.
I am no tech hater. I strongly believe that technology does help us connect with people in meaningful ways, and it should be used for powerful learning in the classroom. But even with all that potential, the face-to-face interactions that you could be having, you should be having. Starting now.
We educators have a role to play in helping our students, their families and ourselves critically examine our relationship with tech. As part of this effort, I ask you to think about what pause for people looks like to you in your classroom, school, home and community. Is it pause for friendship? Is it pause for kindness? Is it pause for creativity? Is it pause for social justice? Just know that the simple act of briefly stopping and looking up can make all the difference. You don’t need to ditch your social media or revert to a flip phone, all you have to do is pause for people.
Liz Kline is the vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media. She is a former teacher, a huge advocate for innovative tech use in the classroom and a card-carrying member of the Pause for People club. You can’t find her on Twitter (sorry, not sorry!), but you can join the conversation around #pauseforpeople and #digitalcitizenship @CommonSenseEd.
This is an updated version of a post that originally published on Oct. 9, 2019.