A growing debate

Nearly a cliché after two decades of development, it is clear that the internet has profoundly changed the ways in which we read, write, communicate, and learn. Given these sweeping changes, one significant conversation centers on the use of internet-enabled devices as they relate to school policy, teaching practices, and the well-being of children. Current conversations about screen time often reduce the discussion to a simplistic debate: How much time should youth spend on devices?

Although many scholars argue that web-based inquiry, multimodal creation, and communication of ideas in web-based environments support the development of fundamental skills of digital literacy, conversations about screen time in education, medicine, and mass media focus predominantly on the time youth spend on devices. These discussions overlook fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using digital devices, with whom, and for what purposes.

Although research over the last two decades has shown that reading and writing in digital spaces requires complex skills, literacy development is often not addressed in conversations about screen time. Instead, articles focus on the damage that screens may cause to developing brains. For example, in Psychology Today article, Victoria Dunckley opens with the claim, “Addiction aside, a much broader concern that begs awareness is the risk that screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with ‘regular’ exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day.” This article cites information from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 report. Although all the data she presents are from studies of internet- and video game-addicted youth, she encourages parents to “arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting—particularly in a young, still-developing brain.”