By Darryl Seguin on June 10, 2020.
Jimmy wakes up and, before he even gets out of bed, he reaches for his phone to catch up on all his social media. He eats breakfast while messaging his friends. His parent reminds him that it is time for schoolwork.
Still in his PJs, Jimmy sneaks in a few of his favourite video games before he is reminded once again that his school day should have started by now. Jimmy groans, rolls his eyes and grudgingly sets down his phone, pulls out his tablet and together Jimmy and his parent begin looking at the day’s assignments. As the day wears into suppertime, Jimmy is continually distracted by the constant flow of messages from his friends pinging away on his phone, and the video games he plays any chance he gets.
He hates that his “school day” seems like it goes on forever and is not impressed with the amount of time his assignments take. He spends most evenings and weekends in his room watching TV and movies, playing online video games, hanging out in chat rooms with strangers, and catching up on all his social media platforms.
Janie jumps out of bed and quickly shuts off her 6 a.m. alarm clock. She makes her bed, has a quick shower and gets ready for the day. She happily enters the kitchen and helps her parent as together they make, and eat, a healthy breakfast before Janie settles into her designated workspace to joyfully begin her at-home learning.
Janie will spend the morning working on her laptop, focusing on her assignments. She will take a lunch break to eat and catch up with her friends on the phone. After her lunch, Janie will take a short time to finish any schoolwork she might not have completed.
This has been her consistent routine since in-person classes were cancelled back in March. Her afternoons and evenings are often spent in a variety of ways: watching TV, listening to music, working on goals, exercising, playing outside, crafting, or cheerily doing her chores all while connecting with friends and extended family on her social media, messaging apps and video apps. On Sundays, she and her family attend church online and watch family movies together.
While these extreme scenarios lend themselves more toward fiction than fact, they highlight a new reality that is causing concern for parents of at-home learners during this COVID pandemic: the significant increase in screen time. Too much screen time can lead to depression, sleep problems, poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyles and exposure to dangerous content and online predators.
With the main focus of at-home learning being literacy and numeracy, students may be forgetting the importance of what they learned during in-class digital citizenship lessons, which emphasized the importance of acting responsibly and respectfully online, the avoidance of sharing personal information, and the effect students’ digital footprints may have on their futures.
It is therefore more important than ever that parents take an active role in monitoring their children’s online activities and screen time and having conversations with their children about online safety and the importance of balance and setting personal time limits on digital devices.
As the school year ends, I hope we choose to put down our devices a little more, limit our screen time, spend quality time with our families, enjoy the outdoors, read stories, play board games and build lasting memories of family, love and joy. Wishing you all a safe and happy summer!
Darryl Seguin is superintendent of the Livingstone Range School Division.