Exams: study time vs screen time

Nola Payne from the Independent Institute of Education

Helping children to build a healthy relationship with technology without neglecting other important aspects of their development is hard for parents at the best of times, but exams can make it even harder, warns an education expert.

“While some parents might want to introduce new house rules or impose a total ban on screen time during important periods such as exams, that approach could be counter-productive,” said Nola Payne, head of faculty for information and communications technology at the Independent Institute of Education.

“However, it is necessary to review and agree on how devices, and especially social media, will be used during this period,” she said, “and parents and guardians should play an active role in assisting young people to strike the right balance.”

Ms Payne warned that parents would face a lot of resistance and risked disrupting the study environment if they banned social media completely.

“Matric and other exams are already very stressful, and social media can help pupils and students unwind and let off steam by sharing their concerns, clearing up study material confusion and encouraging each other.”

It was better, she said, to restrict social media during one to two-hour study sessions, when it could prove a distraction, and permit it during breaks — preferably away from the desk – along with a healthy snack and some fresh air.

Technology had become an integral part of children’s lives, and parents should help them build a healthy relationship with it, she said.

“While there are, of course, dangers and concerns, technology has also brought many advantages and opportunities. Our children need to build a set of skills – hard skills and common-sense ones — around technology, as it will always be a huge part of their lives, whether when researching school work, investigating higher education options or searching for career opportunities, or whether for entertainment or engaging with social media contacts.”

Ms Payne said approaching technology positively and pragmatically right from the start could help families engage better.

“It can improve their resourcefulness, open up new avenues for learning and help them better understand how to manage social interactions. Parents need to be honest about their own concerns and should support and mentor their children by creating the right environment in the online world, as they would in the offline world.”

Parents should do four simple things, she said, to create healthy technology habits for life:

Create and schedule fun offline activities and spaces where the family can interact without technology.

Spend time with your younger children sharing your “tech time”. You can sit with them and create study notes or play an educational game together. This form of interaction can open up interesting discussions, in a natural way, and not feel like it is a forced conversation.

The interest you show in your young child’s technology interactions will build a feeling of trust between yourselves and technology will be seen as a constructive tool for learning.

Respect your children’s privacy. This could be as simple as asking for their permission before you share and tag pictures of them online. If they don’t want you to do it, then respect their wishes.

Set boundaries (which the adults need to adhere to as well), for instance not interacting with technology during dinner or if someone is talking to you.