Technology Is Harming Your Child’s Development…Or Is It?

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Research results are extremely varied on this topic, and complete condemnation is unfounded.  There are a wide variety of factors and silver linings accompanying this issue; thus, we have compiled the pros and cons of the top online activities of various age groups in the table below:

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Taken from Securly’s Managing Screen Time: The Student’s Perspective white paper

By age 4, many children already own their own mobile device.  Technology is so heavily integrated into the development of today’s youth that scientists find it necessary to examine its impact on child behavior.  This interest took hold in the 1980s as more children started spending their time indoors watching television, rather than playing outside.  Now, with increasing accessibility to handheld portable devices (in a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study, 96.6% of young children had access to a mobile device in an urban, low-income minority community), children are spending 5-10 hours per day  in front of a screen– a fact that many adults believe is detrimental, and the cause of increasing rates in physical, psychological, and behavior disorders.

Research (especially from 2010-2013) has linked rising numbers of childhood obesity, disrupted sleep patterns, and under-developed motor/cognitive function to device usage.  However, cases have been made for both sides of this debate in more recent years.  For example, a study in Computers in Human Behavior reported that children who went five days without screen exposure exhibited increased sensitivity to and comprehension of nonverbal emotional cues.  In contrast, other researchers propose recreational technology as an avenue for developing emotional literacy skills earlier in life, and more acutely.  Children take the fictional beings (protagonists, villains, heroes, friends, etc.) from their shows/video games and are able to synthesize complex characters in their own storytelling from the various models of human interaction they are exposed to.  In addition, learning through watching TV shows like Sesame Street and playing educational computer games are believed to improve a child’s listening comprehension and vocabulary.

Essentially, moderation is the crux of the matter!  Scientists warn against excessive screen time exposure, which a little something called balance can easily solve.  Be sure your child’s time spent in front of their Chromebook, iPad, or TV is distributed with educational shows/games – and equally matched with time spent playing outside, interacting with peers, etc.  Surveys show that parental controls and web filtering are commonly underutilized;  these features can help keep your child safe online, as well as monitor and limit device usage.

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What Students Are Actually Doing Online

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Curious as to how children are spending their time online?  So are we.  We surveyed 400+ students to find out just how kids ages 9-18 are using their display devices.

On average, students spend about 5-10 hours per day on their device(s) (smartphone, iPad, laptop, etc).  This of course varies by age group: we found that younger teens (aged 13-15) spend the most time in front of their screens in comparison to other age groups.  Children typically receive their first cell phone around age 12, which explains this heightened usage distribution.

Students from around the world reported using their devices for the following activities (time allocation in descending order): Social Media, Schoolwork, Entertainment, Gaming.


Facebook is the most visited social media network, used even by children younger than the age restriction.  Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr also have a large following of adolescent subscribers.  These sites are intended to be a harmless way to connect with peers.  However, 1/3 of our survey participants experienced cyberbullying and 43% of students have been harassed online according to a recent nationwide study.

Common Sense Media outlines the top social media websites/apps of 2016 and what to be aware of for online safety purposes.


As technology becomes fully integrated into the classroom and 1:1 programs are on the rise, students have reason to spend even more time online.  Students use search engines and databases for research projects, and sites like Khan Academy for video walkthroughs of educational material.

However, 53.6% of students admitted to being sidetracked half of the time while working on school assignments –distributing this “procrastination time” among the other three activities.


Kids are especially adept at surfing YouTube.  Five minutes spent browsing the site can easily turn into a few hours.  The related search algorithm automatically delivers a multitude of videos for the user, based on their search history.  YouTube offers tutorials, funny videos, music, and really anything you can think of.  According to  “What Kids Are Really Watching on YouTube”,  children are spending most of their time watching gaming tutorials, fashion/make up bloggers, Minecraft, and “challenge videos” (i.e. the “Cinnamon Challenge”, in which YouTubers try to eat an entire spoonful of cinnamon at one time).

TV/movie streaming sites such as Netlifx, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are also popular among youth.  Instant access to entire TV series listings allows kids to finish an entire season in one sitting, called “binge watching”.


Lastly, children –especially younger audiences– tend to use their devices for online gaming. Top game sites include, PBS Kids, CoolMathGames, and GirlsGoGames.  Among older users, free-to-play multiplayer online battle games like “League of Legends” are common.

Many of these sites do include safety features (including safe search, restricted mode, YouTube Restricted Mode, etc.) and parental controls.  See the Parental Control Quick Guide for tips on how to enable these built-in functions.

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5 Tips for Student Engagement and Concept Retention

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Across the United States, the average school day is approximately six and a half hours.  That’s incredibly lengthy relative to the the average human attention span of 8 seconds.  In today’s world, students need even less than 8 seconds to access information or find an answer to their question with search engines and online databases.  This reliance poses a threat to the actual retention of knowledge learned in the classroom.

But how can we keep students learning and engaged amidst so many other distractions of 2016?  First, consider that all students learn in different ways.  Students are more receptive to different activities based upon their specific learning style (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic/Tactile, Interpersonal, etc).  Throughout the course of the day, vary lesson plans to accommodate all types of learners; this will keep students active and less likely to fall into a stupor.  To get started, here are five ways to keep students engaged:

1. Utilize Video Tutorials and Online Resources

Videos are a quick-paced and engrossing way to explain concepts.  Educational videos online usually span about 3-5 minutes and include graphics which illustrate the concept explained by an accompanying voiceover.  The use of color, diagrams, visuals, and sound effects appeal to both visual and auditory learners.

They are particularly helpful in describing processes or phenomena that are difficult to witness in everyday life.  Special effects and imaging allows students to see inside the human body, explore ocean depths, and visit the core of the Earth.   Youtube’s #Education page and TeacherTube are great sites to find educational videos.

Technology is now a large part of student life, especially as more schools take on 1:1 policies.  Embrace the functionality of online resources to make class as engaging and interactive as possible!  National Geographic’s build your own interactive map feature and an assortment of grade level appropriate educational games can be easily integrated into the classroom.

2.“Gamify” the Classroom

In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal states that game-like atmospheres inspire people to “do something that matters” and allows gamers to cooperate and collaborate.  Games incentivize, but focus on an overarching goal.  Adapt lesson plans into a game structure where students receive recognition of their academic achievements.  Moreover, have students work together as a class to achieve a goal or get to the “next level” – this reinforces collaboration/cooperation over individualistic competition and comparison. writer Douglas Kiang writes extensively on how integrate gaming principles in the classroom.  For more information, see “Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students”.

3. Do Collaborative Projects/Group Work

Take time to break into smaller sized working groups and give students a prompt that reinforces the content learned that day.  Working in smaller groups allows students to discuss material with their peers, gain different viewpoints of understanding, and further their own comprehension of a concept.  Providing students with an open-ended prompt spurs critical thinking surrounding the class material; this promotes the application of knowledge and a ‘hands-on’ approach to retention.  This also encourages outside research.  Younger kids can utilize these safe search sites to conduct online research.

Depending on the nature of the activity, group projects appeal to most types of learning styles.  For more information, the Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has created a helpful guide for designing collaborative learning activities!

4. Reflect and Summarize In Various Formats

It’s quite easy to forget things within an hour –let alone a day– especially when presented with a lot of new information.  Research shows the benefit of summarizing topics learned at the end of a lecture with the Primacy-Recency Effect.  In short, students retain what is said during the first part of the lesson (approx. first 10 minutes) and the last part of the lesson.  Taking time to summarize also requires students to extract the key ideas of a topic/lesson.

Go a step further and allow summarization to be creative and flexible: students can (to name a few) illustrate/draw diagrams, create a song, choreograph a dance, write/read aloud a recap of the lesson.  This way, students are summarizing in the format that they are most responsive to (consideration of different learning styles!) and increasing retention by creating “sticky memories” (attaching a meaning/specific circumstance to the material which will later make the memory easier to recall).

5. Connect with your students

Lastly, it’s important to get to know your students.  Learn about their likes/interests and the traits which make them unique – it starts with remembering each student’s name.  You will be able to synthesize a curriculum plan that relays material in the most relevant way.  In addition, building a relationship with your students and expressing care for their success can inspire them to apply themselves more in the classroom!

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