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How To Avoid Screen Overuse During School

This sample letter to your child’s teacher may help.

All parents understand the struggle of managing screen time in our children’s lives. We can be empowered to take the leadership role in our own homes and structure our days to include time for exercise, life skills, and family connection. We delay smartphones and monitor computer use. But when our kids walk through that door every morning to go to school, we can feel defeated. 

The topic of screens at school is not as complicated as you may think. ScreenStrong has some great ideas to help your child get the most out of the school day while leaving the distraction and toxic screen elements behind. To read more blogs and research about why our kids can’t focus in school, how screens get in the way of learning, and what parents can do about it, visit the School Screens section on our website. Below, I have also included a handy letter to a school admin/teacher for you to use as a template to begin the conversation with your school and set your child up for success during the school day.

Tips for talking with school leaders

Remember, your teachers are trying hard to do the right thing so approach this as a partnership; be kind, be patient, and be humble. Share the ScreenStrong website and give them the book Screen Schooled. 

It is true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but focus on ways to be a positive influence in your school as you brainstorm ways to help them limit purposeless screen time. Perhaps you are able to be a ScreenStrong Rep in your classroom and plan non-tech activities for your kids’ friends. One mom we know volunteered to come in before school every morning to teach knitting to the elementary kids. Another organized board game clubs during lunch to help kids socialize and get off their phones. Be part of the solution and you will go much further. 

Be sure to customize the sample letter for your child. If you have a younger child you may add that you do not want screens to be used for rewards during the day. If you have an older child you may focus more on the use of screens for homework.

This letter can be given to the principals, teachers, resource teachers, therapists, academic counselors, coaches, etc.  

Sample Letter 

[Date]

Re: [Student name]

Dear [teacher, school admin],

Our [daughter/son] is looking forward to the start of school and we are also excited about this upcoming year. The purpose of this letter is to express our desires related to our student’s use of personal screens at school.

We have recently learned more about the effects of screens on kids and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for no more than two hours of screen time per day as well as the science behind how screen time can overstimulate the nervous system and can cause a state of hyperarousal. We have seen the negative effects of this in our own home as it relates to attention span, reading delays, mood regulation, behavior, and sleep. With the increased screen time during distance learning, we have personally seen even more issues arise. We also have friends and family members who have struggled with screen dependency, video game addiction, and problems with inappropriate smartphone/social media use.

As a result of this information and our own experience, we have taken a proactive step to rethink our position on our children’s use of personal screens. We have decided to keep beneficial screen use (mandatory educational programs), but remove toxic screen use (video games, smartphones, pornography). Our child tends to use screens as a toy and not a learning tool. We would like to ask for your partnership as we strive for the use of only educational screens throughout the school day.

Smartphones

Unfortunately the risk of mental health problems is increasing with teen use of social media and smartphones. We have seen this increase in anxiety, depression and teen suicide first hand among our child’s own peer groups and in our community. Because of these negative effects and risks, we are making the choice to delay a smartphone for our child. Instead, our child will have a talk/text only phone for emergencies.

We prefer that our student not be required to use a smartphone for any purpose. We understand that some classes/teachers may utilize smartphone devices to turn in homework or to communicate sports schedule updates. If there is a specific app needed for communication of any kind, we will install the app on our phones.

We ask that no teacher or any other adult from the school privately text or message our child for any reason.  Any necessary communication can be sent in an email to our child with us copied on the correspondence. If the teacher has a specific app he or she would like to use, we will be happy to install it on our phone. 

Laptops and Tablets:

Based on past experiences, and on research done in this area, we know that some students use school laptops to play video games, cheat, view entertainment videos via YouTube/Netflix, shop online, check social media sites, and instant-message friends during classes. In short, personal screens (including laptops and tablets) can be very distracting for students during class time. It is also very easy for them to navigate around school firewalls by using a personal hotspot via their phone, or accessing a proxy server (for example). We have also learned that there is a growing number of college professors who no longer allow students to access laptops during class.

     In class use: We will instruct our student to keep the laptop or tablet closed unless there is a specific exercise that requires its use during class time, and would welcome the teacher’s help enforcing this. When laptops are not being used for purposeful educational tasks students can easily get off tasks. It is common for students to shift between multiple tabs during class time. In addition, research has shown that taking notes by hand helps students process material better, so our student will not need their laptop out on the desk to take notes.

     Homework: We prefer that homework is completed in a non-digital format when possible. For younger students, this means that we can print off worksheets to be completed by hand when possible. Computer use is fine for essays and limited assignments, but we prefer to follow the research on better comprehension and utilize print reading over digital reading when possible. 

     Textbooks: We would like physical textbooks for each class. Our child learns quicker without the distraction of a screen so we prefer that textbooks are made available for [her/him] to study. If the school does not have a copy of the textbook we would like the name of the ones being used to try to secure them.

Lunch Period

We would prefer that our child have screen free lunches. We understand that this request extends beyond just our student, but ask that you consider it as a policy for the school. Children need time to enjoy making friends and working on those social communication skills. When students are using phones and other screen devices during lunch, they miss out on important social interactions with friends. 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this request. It may seem like an insurmountable task to control screen use during the school day, but we are not ready to throw in the towel and stand by. We feel that these requests will not only help our child become a better student, but be healthier and more independent.

We know that [she/he] might feel different from the other kids. We do not expect the teacher to be concerned with this issue as we will be discussing this with our child accordingly. Our family plans to have many non-tech social activities at our home so that [he/she] can build friendships, social skills, and not feel left out in any way. Our goal is to have our child fall in love with learning and with school, and not be glued to a device throughout the school day.

We appreciate your willingness to partner with us however you can as we do our part to set our child up for school success. We do not wish for any of these requests to be an extra burden for the school or for the individual teacher so please communicate any problems you may foresee.

Thank you again for your time and consideration, 

Sincerely,

[Name of Parent]

Accommodations for a IEP or 504 Plan

You can request accommodations for your child if he or she has a current plan or not. Examples of tech—or electronic—related accommodations include:

  • Being able to complete and turn in assignments without using the computer
  • Not being allowed to play video games during school or recess
  • Opting out of pilot or experimental educational software or programs
  • Restricting the number of screen hours during the school day

See pg. 280 in Dr. Dunckley’s book, Reset your Child’s Brain: A Four Week Plan To End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, for a list of how to include effective arguments in your request. Remember, any parent can request an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) for their child. This plan will give you more options as the use of computer screens in the classroom is growing. Below is a sample doctor note but your provider may wish to write their own.

Sample Doctors Note

The following is a template taken from Dr. Victoria Dunckley. Use this measure if you are on the screen detox and still have issues with too much screen use during the school day.

Taken from pg. 159 of her book.

Template for sample doctors note to give to school requesting accommodation during the screen detox. 

Date ____

Re: Johnny Doe, Date of Birth.

To whom it may concern

Because screen time can overstimulate the nervous system and cause chronic hyperarousal (fight-or-flight), and thereby negatively affect attention, mood regulation, behavior, and/or sleep, Johnny is to be off all computers and any other electronic screen devices for the next ___ weeks, starting ___ [date] and finishing ___ [date]. Recommendations may be made regarding this issue thereafter, to be determined.

Sincerely, ______________________, M.D. License # ________________________

Is It Worth the Fight?

Do everything you can to help your child during the school age years. Know that school screens are here to stay. But you can provide loving leadership and structure to help your child make better choices. Keep plenty of age appropriate books in his bedroom and read as a family. Really limit screen exposure at home because he will get more than plenty during the school day. Your child will not be left behind because he didn’t get enough time in front of a computer learning a program or skill. But he will get left behind if he doesn’t learn hard-work habits, concentration, and grit. Is it worth it? You bet it is. Stand up for your kids and stay school-screen strong!