Building healthy screen time habits: What Prisma kids say

Learning how to use the internet safely, smartly, and creatively is one of the most essential skills for success in our hyper-connected world. Prisma learners just wrapped up their Cyber Citizens learning

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April 2, 2021

Learning how to use the internet safely, smartly, and creatively is one of the most essential skills for success in our hyper-connected world. Prisma learners just wrapped up their Cyber Citizens learning cycle, where they explored topics from data privacy to news feed algorithms, learned how to write a professional email and conduct an effective Google search, and made their own vlogs, podcasts, animations, infographics, and websites. 

Our Cyber Citizens theme kicked off with a challenge we extended to all learners and their families: track every minute of your online media use for one week. Each learner created a spreadsheet and pie chart breaking down how much time they spent online by category (social media, gaming, video chatting, etc.). Armed with this data, they identified one habit they would like to change, and made a plan to do so over the six-week learning cycle, supported by their learning coach and peer cohort. 

We asked them to write blog posts about their journeys, so we could share what they learned with the world. (For thoughts on the educational value and safety of specific online tools, see our posts on: Minecraft, Discord and Roblox.)

Here are a few of their nuggets of wisdom: 


Unstick from the “Web”

“I have a huge weak spot. 

The internet is a vast web of videos of cats playing piano or squirrels water skiing but  those hilarious distractions come with consequences. Each time you watch the video of the dog and the bunny some important thing you had to do gets forgotten whether it's your book report or an email you had to have sent by a certain time. By letting it come before your work you are facing the consequences of the internet. 

Think of it like a spider's web and you're the bug. You don’t see it as an issue. It's just little white strings that you can fly right through. You think you are fine until you get stuck and then you are in too deep to get out so you just sit there and wait. When you start doing something that is more fun than the work you have you silence all voices that are telling you to stop it. You just wait for the spider to come instead of trying to escape. 

The first step to escaping the spiders web is to make yourself realise you are in the spider web. In other words, tell your mind out loud that you have a problem that needs to be solved.  

Once you say it out loud it becomes real in your head. You might unconsciously know that you have an issue but until you say it out loud it stays unconscious.  First try to notice when you get sucked in. Notice that little voice in your head that you usually ignore saying ‘You have work to do’. It will be hard because you have turned that voice into a whisper but you need to give it a microphone. It is the part of you that has always known that you got sucked in and it is the part of you that will help get you out.” — Grace, 7th grader


Creating Family Harmony

“At the end of the week I could tell that I’m addicted to my phone. I showed that I spend 8 hours a day on my phone, mostly on social media...I have made it a goal of mine to cut my media use time in half. To do this I focused my brain on doing other things like reading or playing my guitar. For one it has made my parents very happy and two it has made me like 20% happier than I was and for me that is an improvement.

And for the students reading this don’t get into a fight with your parents about your media use, all they want to do is spend time with you (so be nice).” — Joy, 8th grader


Take Baby Steps

“At first I tried to jump right into less media time but found out fast that that was not the way to go...  It made me feel more stressed out and judgemental of the hours I was spending on the screen. So that did not work out. It all changed one day when I heard the quote “you have to crawl before you can walk, you have to walk before you can run, and you have to run before you can get to the finish line.” and I realized that I needed to take baby steps, this was not going to happen overnight. 

The second thing I tried was to create a spreadsheet. Unlike my first attempt this worked A LOT (you can try this online or physically on paper). It tallied all of the hours on my screen, and I (GENTLY) made corrections and slowly but surely brought my media hours down to a number I was comfortable with.” — Laila, 5th grader


Set Good Goals

“Have you ever felt that you spend too much time doing other things and not enough time working? Well, I have a suggestion for you. The best way to control that is to make good goals.

It can be helpful to get a calendar and write when you want to get things done. But make sure not to make the goals too hard or else it will be impossible for you to be able to meet those goals. Another great way to make goals is to have a notebook and write what you have done each day, anything from math to writing a paper. When you look back at it, you can see what you could have done better and what you have done very well.

Another great thing to do is to have two accounts on Google; one for working and the other for fun.  Make sure you do not just switch accounts when you are bored, though.  It can be hard to get work done when you're constantly checking other things and getting lost in the world of the internet.” — Kelsey, 6th grader


Switch from Texts to Letters

“During quarantine, I have loved to send letters to my friends and family telling them how much I appreciate them. It is a lot more fun to send out and receive handwritten letters than it is to receive texts! Writing letters keeps you distracted from your devices and helps you be thoughtful and keep in touch with your family and friends.” — Kira, 7th grader


Use Your Data 

“When I noticed that I spend a lot of time on youtube and gaming I started to set goals for myself. One of the goals was to spend ⅓ of my screen time on school work. I achieved this by seeing how much time is left in the week, and how close I am to my goal. I used this information to make a plan for my day to fully complete the goal. Once the week was over I could look and see what I think I should add and do more of. I noticed that I wasn’t getting outside often and I wasn't exercising either. My new goal is to be more active and take screen breaks.

I have started to take short 15-30 minute walks to take a break from screens and get some fresh air. Today I made plans to go on a walk with my dad in my spare time. We had a good time on the walk talking about coding my project in Java, or Python.” — Ben, 4th grader


When to Resist & Give In to Temptation 

“For one, I’ve tried to just put my phone upstairs so it’s less tempting. I would strongly recommend this if you just think about it all the time so this will help you not think about it as much. Another strategy that has worked for me is giving myself body breaks away from the screen so I can focus on something else that I love, like soccer. 

My last piece of advice for you if you’re struggling is to set a schedule for a time every day that you can watch that guilty pleasure. Maybe that’s early in the morning where you can watch before you start the day or maybe even at night where you wind down doing it. Whatever it is, find something that works for you.” — Gabby, 5th grader


“Inbox Zero” Isn’t For Everyone

“I once read a blog about how exhausting it was, having an overflowing inbox. I don't care. People would ask her to see this wonder, a perfectly sorted, empty inbox. I just deleted mine.

Once you delete the emails, there’s no going back. You can’t ask people to re-send an email from four years ago, with the only explanation being that you want to feel complete. 

Darren Tome, VP of Product at Mashable thinks hiding your emails away can make it harder to “maintain the wider view of those conversations.” According to a study done by Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, cutting off email for one week can lead to reduced stress levels. I don't think this applies to many people my age. 

I have found several blogs and reports about the terror of having a full inbox. How awful it is. How it clouds their judgment, and only when their inbox is empty, they can see the light. 

One person has filters, cleansing the inbox of dirty, unimportant emails. I wonder if someone did this to me. If they did, it must not be working.

I read an article about this on the Atlantic. Somehow, at the bottom there was a generated tag, asking to make my inbox more interesting. Remember this is about inboxes and the battle for an empty one.

I wish you the best of luck, on your journey to decide. Be it by a flick of the hand, or a roll of the die, your inbox, your problem.” — Soren, 6th grader


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