Skip to main content

Leah Rogerson, who teaches at Belmont Elementary in Langley, gave her class the No Screen Challenge last week, and said the reactions ranged from “This is going to be hard” to “I can do that.”Jupiterimages

When confronted with a week-long challenge to stay away from all forms of screens, at least one Grade 3 student said she felt like she had to confine herself to her room. Another, teacher Leah Rogerson says, melted down completely for a day when he heard the assignment.

"[He was] sobbing, crying, on the ground in a fit," she said.

Ms. Rogerson, who teaches at Belmont Elementary in Langley, gave her class the No Screen Challenge last week, and said the reactions ranged from "This is going to be hard" to "I can do that."

Fellow teacher Jason Proulx said only about half of his 21 students managed to avoid smartphones, tablets, video games or televisions during the challenge. He said at one time, nearly his whole class could be screenless for the week without slip-ups. Now, he said, he sees kids more addicted to technology.

"They're more aggressive about having to get their fix of electronics, and TV and video games," he said.

The ubiquity of and dependence on electronics could present a challenge as young children enter adolescence, a key stage in life when people need more sleep, said Elizabeth Saewyc, a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia.

She said that is because longer screen time, shorter sleeps and increased levels of stress are linked.

"If you're on your screen the last thing before you're going to bed and you're really intellectually stimulated and engaged, … it can take you a longer time to relax yourself and [fall asleep]."

More and more, youth are using a variety of screens for communicating with parents and friends, playing games and social networking.

More than 90 per cent of youth surveyed in 2013 by the McCreary Centre Society, an organization that focuses on the health of young people, had their own cellphone and were using it before, during and after school. Nearly all of them reported using it the previous day.

In the same study, youth reported staying plugged in after the time they were expected to be sleeping: 59 per cent were surfing the Internet, 57 per cent were talking or texting; about the same proportion were chatting online or using social networks; and one-third were playing online games.

Only about one-quarter of adolescents surveyed were sleeping the recommended nine hours or more.

For Dr. Saewyc, the link between screens and sleep is concerning.

"What that means is we've got nearly half of youth who are not getting the recommended amount of sleep, and part of that is you've got 85 per cent of girls and 79 per cent of boys who are online or on their phone after they were supposed to be asleep," she said.

The study also showed positive benefits of mobile devices: Youth who used cellphones to communicate with their parents were more likely to report having family members and other adults they could turn to for help with serious problems.

Ms. Rogerson said the challenge made her students more aware of how technology affects their lives.

Before, for instance, one of her students could not focus in class because he was thinking about his video game at home.

"[He said,] 'I can't focus on my work because I'm worried my village is being raided,'" she said.

The student's anxiety has since disappeared, she said.

Keeley Read, 8, said she lasted the whole week of Mr. Proulx's challenge, despite having to give up her morning ritual of watching TV with breakfast. She also gave up her iPod and her camera, but didn't miss them much, she said.

"I really liked [the challenge]. It was cool … because I could spend more time outside and with my family," she said.

Eight-year-old Emily Linde went electronics-free for six days until she accidentally looked at the screens at her church, she said. Emily also spent more time outside. "We went to Williams Park, and I really liked that," she said.

Mr. Proulx said he has noticed a change in the screen dependence of parents, as well, who in the past have participated in the challenge with their kids.

"This, I think, was the first year I didn't get parents coming to me saying they enjoyed this," he said. "The parents weren't willing to engage in the whole week without TV."

For Dr. Saewyc, one means of ensuring technology does not interrupt sleep is to keep the devices in the living room or kitchen over night.

"But that requires parents to do that, too," she said. "It's important to be good role models."