By Liana Gooch, Deputy Principal

Recently, screen time has been in the news. Korowa’s archivist Sandra Turner remarked that students visiting the School Archives often express their amazement at the size of the slates the Korovians used, compared to their iPads. It reminded me how significant digital tools have become in our children’s lives.

What constitutes suitable screen time given the current concerns about their possible impact on student wellbeing?

Let’s look at the literature.

A worrying trend is emerging of a decline in children’s mental health. Australian Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg has noted that in Australia 1 in 7 primary school children, and 1 in 4 secondary school children suffer mental health issues (Sahlberg, 2018). Globally, evidence suggests that children are not experiencing sufficient sleep, outdoor exercise or eating enough healthy food.? These trends have many teachers, parents and educational experts concerned about the impact that smartphones and general screen time may be contributing to this trend.? Finland has noted a correlation between teenager’s increased screen time and a reduction in their international student assessment results.

Digital devices have become an important tool for children from a very early age and some of their habits have been acquired from their parents.? A UK study indicated that about 51% of children aged 6-11 months old use a touch screen daily. (Sahlberg, 2018).? A Common-Sense Media 2015 survey indicated that in the US, teens were typically using screens up to nearly nine hours daily (which excludes school tasks or homework). (Sahlberg, 2018). In Canada, over the last five years, 3 out of 4 teachers in the province of Alberta have noted a deterioration in students’ ability to focus on their learning tasks. (Sahlberg, 2018).

When US neurologist Dr Jay Lombard toured Australia, he informed parents about the detrimental impact on brain development in teenagers that the constant monitoring of social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat can have. Besides the addictive nature of these devices, teens’ reliance upon apps to socialise can impede right brain development. The right brain coordinates many social norms such as eye contact, facial recognition and trust. According to Dr Lombard, “This lack of human interaction can fuel distrust and anxiety, which has a profound effect on our brain health and physical wellbeing”. This environment of social isolation can trigger a fight or flight response which also triggers adrenaline which can contribute to ‘…adrenal fatigue, increased risk of viral infection, depression and has been linked to auto-immune diseases.’ (Harris, 2019)

Furthermore, Computer Scientist and Author of ‘Digital Minimalism’, Cal Newport has identified that the constant focus on screens is detrimental to the brain in the form of solitude deprivation.? When listening to someone, a lot of energy is expended upon this attention as the brain processes information – as the brain can’t distinguish between talking one on one or examining a social media post, and constantly checking posts can lead to mental exhaustion.? We need time away from technology in solitude to be able to process and reflect on information in order to do some deep thinking.? Take this aspect away and Cal believes that the rise in anxiety reflects solitude deprivation.

Following an experiment with 1600 people, Cal considers that a solution is a conscious move to digitally declutter – to actually step away from social media and other digital distractions. Eventually, some of the digital apps could be re-initiated but an individual would now be more mindful of how to use to them?as a tool.?The success of this process lies in young people determining what they will actually do in the time normally spent checking their screens. I highly recommend to parents watching the Cal Newport YouTube link listed below.

Several countries, including France, are moving to ban smartphone use by students under 15 years of age during school hours as a solution to reduce declining mental health and inability to learn well.? However, some experts are challenging this approach and suggest that it is difficult to prove that screen time is the main cause of these outcomes.

Finnish educator Professor Pasi Sahlberg argues that while this type of ban would be an easy solution, it may not be the smartest one.? Instead, Sahlberg emphasises that for our young digital citizens, teachers and parents play a vital role in teaching and discussing with children how to navigate this landscape and use their tools effectively.

What’s acceptable for recreational screen time?

The researchers supporting the 2018 Active Healthy Kids report, recommend?a maximum of two hours daily recreational screen time (Active Healthy Kids Australia, 2018). However, the reality is that less than half of primary school students, and only 15% of high school students were below this recommended time (Moore, 2019).??With these high figures of use, parents play a vital role in reducing screen time. Sahlberg recommends that adults make ‘…technology a tool, not a treat for children in school and at home.’?? A World Health Organisation Report in 2019 recommends that children under 2 years old have no screen time other than video conferencing and that children between 2 and 5 years old should only have a maximum of 1 hour of sedentary engagement in screen time. (Bowden, 2019)? Instead, parents should encourage reading with their children.

Interestingly, a Dunedin Study in NZ revealed that learned self-control in childhood is the best predictor of success in adulthood.? Besides reducing digital screen time, Sahlberg recommends another four essential actions below that parents can both model and implement to help children’s concentration and self-regulation.

Another Four Essential Actions


To ensure that children can function at their best,?those students aged 6 to 13 years of age need 9 to 11 hours of sleep while teenagers require 8 to 10 hours every night. However, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the reality is that?only 15% of teens?are getting at least 8.5 hours of sleep each school night.

  • Parents need to have a rule with children that mobile devices need to be shut down two hours before sleep and they be kept out of bedrooms.


Learning through play is critical to develop a child’s creativity.? Less time spent by parents with children outside has manifested in a noticeable decline in child play.

  • At school, students are encouraged to go outdoors during lunchtimes and recess. Parents can factor in some time during the week to spend with children outdoors.

Reading and writing 

Reading and productive writing will assist children in focusing, concentration and persistence. The reading of books is another great way to reduce a focus on screen text.??In an earlier post about reading, I mentioned that millennial children prefer paper texts to screens and that as parents, we can be modelling the joy of reading paper texts ourselves.

  • Create a sense of joy of reading by taking students to bookstores and libraries to obtain books of their own choice is highly valuable. Discussing what you and your child are reading will also encourage reading.
  • Encouraging students to write letters to someone each week and providing feedback will enhance their writing skills.

Turning to the wisdom of a time well before the advent of digital screens, Aristotle made a very important point that still carries weight in the present age – ‘Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.’? The reality is our children will need to learn to juggle the use of their screens in their lives as adults – we are all too aware of the the need to be able to multi-task as a crucial twenty first century skill as acknowledged by Candice Odgers, a professor of psychological science at the University of California Irvine.? It is both the role of teacher and parent to create these habits that they will carry with them through life.


Sahlberg, Pasi (21 September, 2018)? 29 April 2019)

Moore, Tony (Feb 27, 2019)?Schoolkids, Finland and the problem with screen time,?Brisbane Times

Singhal, Pallavi (April 15, 2019)?Phones no worse for you than potatoes, international expert says,?The Sydney Morning Herald

Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM,?Cal Newport on Why You Should Quit Social Media “Digital Minimalism?(15 April, 2019)?

Harris, Christopher (May 4, 2019)?Screen kids are addicts,?The Herald Sun, Melbourne

Bowden, Ebony (April 24, 2019), WHO releases Guidelines on Screen Time for Children, New York Post, (accessed 29 April 2019)

Active Healthy Kids Australia (2018). Muscular Fitness: It’s Time for a Jump Start. The 2018 Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People. Adelaide, South Australia: Active Healthy Kids Australia (access 29 April 2019)