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Screen Tips for High School

Open Letter to a Ninth-Grade Boy

Screen Tips for High School

By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

—Uncle Ben, Spider-Man (2002)

You’re starting high school and we’re so excited for your new adventure!

We know you’ll have a wonderful time with your old friends and make many new ones. But you may also have some struggles. We won’t sugarcoat our advice and tell you everything is going to be easy for you. In fact, we had it much easier in school than you’ll ever have. 

You’re part of an experimental generation regarding kids’ brains and screens. You have the difficult task of trying to focus in class with distracting screens all around you. While you may have had some success in elementary and middle school with screen use in the classroom, your high school years will be dramatically different. Your dad and I would have wasted so much time in school if we had screens on our desks. Remember, time is the most valuable asset you have—more valuable than money—so you must learn how to manage it wisely. 

We’re going to give you some guidance. This is a compilation of what your older brother and sister learned during their high school years, and what your dad and I learned as parents. You can choose to believe us or not, but we’re sharing the gift of our experience. We hope you take it to heart. 

Your laptop isn’t your laptop; it’s ours.

You didn’t purchase it. We’re loaning it to you. It’s not yours to decorate with stickers or anything else. We want it back in the original condition. Don’t visit any inappropriate websites. We’ll have parental controls on the laptop so you shouldn’t try to get around them. If you do, we’ll collect our laptop, and you won’t have one during the school day.

Use your laptop as a tool not a toy.

Right now, your screen is a source of entertainment for you; it’s a toy. In order to succeed in school, you’ll need to use your laptop as the research tool it was meant to be. We know it will be hard to completely shift your focus from using your screen as a toy to using your screen as a tool. Most adults can’t even do this. But we’ll help you in every way we can.

Don’t mess with the school security settings.

Your school can’t keep you from playing video games on campus. You’ll need to rely on your own discipline and that will be hard. Even though your friends will be exploring how to bypass the school firewall to play Fortnite during English class, don’t follow their lead. If you want to learn more about computer firewalls and security, we’ll look into a computer class for you. 

Use a textbook before a screen.

We’re not against screens. But the reality is, for learning comprehension, paper will beat a screen every time. Science tells us that reading information in a print textbook will stick in your brain better than reading the same information on a screen. Will you need to read on a screen during school? Sure. However, know that if you really want to learn the information well, paper will be better. Your older sister agrees that when she studies for a test in college she prints off the material to read and make notes on. Believe it or not, your comprehension will be greater offline and you’ll get your studying done faster. [1]

You can’t multitask.

Teenagers think they can do multiple things at once, especially on their screens, but science says multitasking isn’t possible. You’re not actually doing two things at once, your brain is just switching between tasks really fast. Multitasking will waste time and your brain will become tired quicker. Practice focusing on one task at a time.

Lunchtime is for socializing.

Lunch is a fun time designed for you to hang out and get to know your friends while practicing those valuable communication skills we’re always talking about. Using smartphones and laptops at lunch will reduce your face-to-face social skills. Don’t sit at the lunch table with people who live on their phones while they eat. You only have a short time at school to hang out with your friends. Don’t let screens get in the way.

Note-taking on paper is better than note-taking on a computer screen.

Research demonstrates that the simple act of handwriting instead of typing notes gives you an academic advantage. Your brain fires more neurons when you hold an actual pen and form letters on paper. Your brain doesn’t get the same workout when you type the same words on a computer. Handwriting your notes is like extra credit for your brain, so make sure you take advantage of it. [2]

Learn to concentrate.

Having laser focus while in class will save you hours of time after school. Just like learning a new skill such a baseball, piano, or bike riding, learning how to concentrate can be frustrating. Learning is hard work and can be lonely. You’ll be uncomfortable at times. Be patient. It’ll take time, but with good study skills and undistracted class time you’ll master the art of concentration that’ll pay dividends the rest of your life. 

Smartphones will kill your focus.

You won’t struggle with smartphones during school because you don’t have one. But for kids who do have smartphones, they’ll struggle in class and with homework. In fact, it’ll take them four times longer to complete homework with a smartphone present. But you don’t have to worry about this. Without this distraction, you’ll finish your homework quickly and have plenty of time for other activities. If time is currency, you are much richer.

Sit in the front of the class.

Kids who sit in the front of the class get better grades. The closer you sit to kids playing on screens, the lower your grades will be. Because you can’t control what your classmates are doing on their screens, it’s unwise to sit behind them. 

Don’t cheat.

You’ll be tempted to cheat using your screen in school because it’ll seem so easy to do. When classmates will cheat, it will seem unfair that you’re working harder than they are but getting the same grade. But nothing is worth the bad feeling you’ll have if you cheat. And those kids aren’t really learning the information, which will hurt them later. So don’t cheat; it never pays off.

Don’t look at porn.

Really, don’t. I know our culture assumes that it’s normal for teens to look at porn, but it’s not healthy. Studies show that pornography can make areas of the brain smaller and less active, and have fewer neuronal connections. [3] When you see graphic and sometimes violent images, your brain makes a permanent file of it, like a microchip in your brain. You then access these files over and over, and get very distorted views of what sex really means and what relationships are about. Your brain is very sensitive at this time in your life and porn is as addictive as a drug. Set a high goal for this part of your life: no porn. You only have one brain: protect it, and don’t fill it with disgusting content. 

Get plenty of sleep.

You just have to trust us on this one. Do your homework that requires a screen right when you get home from school. Don’t put it off till evening. The blue light from the screen will hinder your sleep. You’ll naturally want to stay up later because you’re a teenager and your body clock has changed. However, you need nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep every night to grow, stay healthy, and retain information you learn throughout the day. Grab a good book to read before bed instead. Studies show that reading for pleasure at your age is the strongest indicator for future academic success. [4]


Screens are not terrible, but they are powerful and come with a lot of responsibility. These tips aren’t meant to hold you back, but to help you create the best high school experience possible. We want you to be able to look back with no regrets. Don’t be afraid to tell your teacher about the screen guidelines you’re setting for yourself. It shows academic responsibility.

We know you have everything it takes to be successful in school. We’re a team. We have your back, and we’re here to support you.


Here’s to the best ninth grade year! 



Mom and Dad



[1] Research at a Glance: Laptops in the Classroom

[2] Research at a Glance: Laptops in the Classroom

[3] From Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi: 10.3390/bs5030388; Kuhn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: the brain on porn. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93; Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi: 10.3390/bs5030388; Wehrum-Osinski, S., Klucken, T, & Rudolf, S. (2015) OR-95: Neuronal and subjective responses in patients with excessive pornography consumption, Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4(S1), 42; Arnow, B. A., et al. (2002). Brain activation and sexual arousal in healthy, heterosexual males. Brain, 125, 1014-1023. doi:10.1093/brain/awf108. See also Kuss, D., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Internet and Gaming Addiction: A Systematic Literature Review of Neuroimaging Studies, Brain Science, 2(3) 347-374. doi:10.3390/brainsci2030347 (discussing brain atrophy among persons addicted to Internet use.)

[4] Will Your Gamer Survive College? by Melanie Hempe, pg. 41