Screens & School Success

Did You Know?

  • By graduation, the average teen will have spent more time watching screens than in the classroom, playing sports or talking with their parents.
  • 48% Canadian kids aged 8-15 have a TV in their bedroom. 26% Canadian kids aged 8-15 have a computer hooked up to the internet in their bedroom.
  • Children who watch a lot of television and have a set in their bedroom, do significantly worse at school and are less likely to reach university.
  • Middle school students who play video games during the week do worse in school.
  • Students who get inadequate sleep and spend too much time watching TV or doing activities online do worse in school than their peers who get plenty of sleep and avoid excessive TV.

What Young Children Need

We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

- Karl Fisch kid in suit with laptop

What skills do children need to be successful as adults in the 21st century? While experts are not exactly, sure what kind of jobs are beyond the horizon, workers can expect to change career paths many times in their lifetime. We know that this generation of students will need to become technologically able, intellectually agile, and socially skilled.

Never before has there been such a wealth of knowledge available to students - literally at their fingertips. The potential of the internet to teach and inform, communicate and collaborate, create and publish, is enormous and exciting. Students will need to engage with information, words, and ideas, if they are to take full advantage of these opportunities. Not only do they need to know what buttons to push and what links to follow, they will need to think about what they are doing as they create, solve problems, and work together on projects. Finally, as long as people continue to live and work together, students will also need to develop patience, empathy, and social skills to get along with family and friends, teachers and classmates, and eventually, co-workers and boss.

boy school

Success at school means hard work at home and in the classroom. Students need to arrive at school well rested, well fed, attentive, and “good to go.” They need language skills to communicate, and a sense of curiosity and imagination. They must be able to focus and pay attention, and have enough patience and determination to stick with difficult or boring tasks. They must also be able to work independently, and get along with others. Learning is both an active and interactive experience.

Why Screen Time Matters

While the use of technology as a learning tool holds much promise for our kids, the misuse of technology can have the opposite effect. Research clearly shows that too much ‘screen time’ is linked to a lack of school success - poor grades, lower reading scores, inattention, dulled thinking, and social problems. It is not hard to see how TV, video games, and internet activities might interfere with healthy eating and sleeping habits, and getting your homework done. Less well known is how ‘screen time’ can rob children of opportunities to develop essential learning skills. New research from the world of neuroscience shows that too much ‘screen time’ - versus not enough ‘face time’- is wiring children’s brains in ways that can make learning in the classroom, and getting along with teachers and other students more difficult.



Too much ‘screen time’ can deny kids opportunities to interact with people. It is especially important that young children have plenty of practice listening, speaking, and reading. Oral language is critical to reading, and both skills are essential for success at school. Studies show the more children watch TV - the lower their reading scores; the less well they do; and the less well socialized they are in 1st grade.

Curiosity & Imagination


Curiosity stimulates learning, and imagination fuels creation. Most TV shows and video games do little to spark a child’s curiosity or imagination. If a Canadian child spends the national average of 42 hours a week in front of a screen, there is not enough time to be curious, nor is there a need to imagine much of anything.



Quite simply, children must pay attention to lessons, and keep focused to complete their work. When kids come to expect the level of excitement, stimulation, and instant rewards provided by fast-paced TV shows and video games, and from surfing the net, their brains are not ready for learning in the classroom. The danger is that kids expect to be entertained, which they will not be at school or in the workplace.

Patience & Persistence


Many school assignments test a child's ability to stick with an activity. Kids need opportunities to practice patience and persistence so they are ready for any dull or challenging tasks at school or in the workplace. A lot of screen content is instantly entertaining, and provides kids few chances to practice patience.

Problem Solving

problem solving

Across North America, teachers have noticed that intermediate and secondary students of all abilities, are having more difficulty coming up with ideas, using ‘higher level’ thinking skills, and solving problems. Problem solving requires that students have the ability to think critically and creatively. They must also be willing to spend considerable time thinking deeply about a problem. Unfortunately, with so many of their waking hours spent in front screens, many students are left with little time for deep thought. Not only does ‘screen time’ interfere with ‘think time’, the rapid delivery of screen content only gives enough time for shallow thinking.



On average, kids are getting at least an hour less sleep each night than they need. Studies indicate that TV’s, computers, and cell phones in bedrooms, interfere with students getting the rest that their minds and bodies need. Getting enough sleep is important to clear thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and memory. Short sleepers are more likely to appear inattentive, distracted, and impulsive than their well-rested classmates, perform less well on tests, and get lower grades.

Social Skills

social skills

Studies show the more time people spend on computers, the less time they spend interacting with others face-to-face. Children who do not get enough ‘face time’ can miss vital opportunities to develop nonverbal skills – such as reading facial expressions or body language. Misreading nonverbal messages can cause all kinds of social problems at school and later on in life.


Many people think that multitasking – doing many things at once - increases brain power. Scientists now know that the opposite is true. So, when your daughter claims that watching TV, listening to her iPod, talking on the phone, and instant messaging helps her to finish homework, studies show the quality of her work actually suffers! Doing one thing at a time gets better results than performing many tasks all at once.

What Can Be Done

Limit Screen Time

  • The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Children under two years old should watch as little as possible.
  • Keep computers and television out of the bedroom. Kids need a private place to study free of distractions.
  • Set limits on 'screen time' before homework is done.
  • Create house rules to turn off the screens at mealtimes, while doing homework, and an hour before going to bed. Make sure your child gets enough sleep each night.

Supervise Content

supervise content

  • Know what your child is watching, playing, or doing on-line, and what is being taught. Remember your children will be picking up attitudes and values from the shows they watch.
  • Check the content and ratings of TV shows, video games, music and movies, and teach children how to plan their screen time
  • Use parental controls for TV and filtering software for computers.
  • Limit the amount of violent content your children are exposed to and monitor their behaviour after watching scary or violent shows or playing video games.
  • Make sure babysitters or other caregivers are aware of your ‘house rules’ for screen time and what they are allowed to watch.

Become "Screen Smart" Together

father watching tv with kids

  • Watch TV shows, play video games, and surf the ‘net with your children. Talk about what they are watching and help kids to question the messages and values communicated by the screen content. Make it a habit to inquire about what shows or movies they watched, or where go on-line.
  • Talk to your children about sexual and violent content, stereotyping, and body image in the media, and strategies advertisers use to market to children, and the unrealistic messages contained in many Ads.
  • Be a good role model. Limit your own screen time and monitor what you watch when children are nearby. Record adult shows and watch them when the kids are not around.

play together

  • Encourage the eating of healthy snacks when watching show or a movie.
  • Balance ‘screen time’ with activities for a healthy mind and body. Choose activities that encourage healthy brain growth - talking, reading, arts and crafts, playing board games, singing, and listening to music, and those that involve physical activity – such as sports, playing outside, or going for a family walk
  • Read with your child. Have books in the home. Visit the library often.
  • Become Media Literate together! Research has shown that teaching children how the media works, encourages them to use media thoughtfully and critically and thoughtfully, and has been shown to be protective.

    Together ask and answer these 5 questions:

    • Who created this message?
    • What techniques are used to get my attention?
    • How might others interpret this message differently from me?
    • What lifestyles, values, and points of view are in, or left out of this message?
    • Why was this message sent?


Computers can help kids learn, if children use their computers for educational purposes. However, many kids use their computers for entertainment and staying in touch with their real friends or ‘virtual friends’ on-line. The computer becomes a distraction, instead of a useful homework tool.

  • Keep computers in a family common space. It is harder for your kids to avoid doing homework when you can keep an eye on them.
  • Show your kids how to use search engines to find accurate information.
  • Make sure your kids understand the difference between work-time and playtime on the computer, and that they separate the two.
  • Familiarize yourself with the parental controls available to you through your service provider. Let your kids know ahead of time that you will verify their responsible use of the Internet.
  • Talk to your kids about plagiarizing from the Internet and review how to cite a source. Let them know that plagiarizing is unacceptable.

Healthy Activities, Information, and Support in our Community:


Useful Websites

Interesting Articles

Dumbed Down: The Troubling Science how Technology is Rewiring Kid’s Brains, by Lianne George

Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr


iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, by Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi Vorgan.

Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson

The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind, by Richard Restak

Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It, by Jane Healy