Mobile phones, computers, social media and the Internet are part of everyday life for children and young people, including at school. Concerns about the risks of too much screen time or online activity for children and young people have been mitigated by the reality of technology use in education and leisure.
The experience of living during the pandemic, when much education and socializing went online, has also changed attitudes towards the use of technology. The UK communications regulator Ofcom reported that in 2020 only a minority of children and young people were not online or had no internet access.
Teachers are in a unique position to assess how children and young people are using technology such as cell phones and the impact it is having on them. You see how children and young people use technology to learn, socialize and how it affects their relationships with their peers.
Together with colleagues I have carried out in-depth research with eight teachers from across the UK of diverse backgrounds, ages, years of experience and type of educational institution. We asked teachers about their experiences with children and young people’s use of technology: how they think it affected their emotions, behavior and learning before and during the pandemic.
The teachers spoke about the importance of technology as a tool in the classroom and in learning and the opportunities it offers for creativity. As one teacher put it:
It’s what the kids are used to and it engages them more – it’s a useful tool that can enrich our lessons.
Empowered by technology
We also found that teachers were optimistic about the role technology could play in empowering children and youth. one said:
They use social media to learn from each other and express their beliefs – even children who are quiet in the classroom find it easier to express themselves online.
They thought that children and young people could learn to understand and recognize the signs of unhealthy technology use based on their own emotions and behavior when using technology. This included showing empathy and caring by noticing how they and others are feeling. One teacher said children and young people are becoming more compassionate and are offering to help friends who are showing signs of distress through their online posts.
However, some teachers expressed concern about how online interaction was affecting the social skills of children and young people. A teacher said:
They don’t know how to have proper conversations with their friends. They don’t know how to solve something because it’s easy to be mean behind a screen and not have to solve it.
Another asked how the use of technology affects the game. Said:
They don’t know how to play and in fact you will see groups of them surrounding a phone.
Teachers also pointed out the problems of moving away from using technology. A teacher explained:
Parents are constantly struggling to pull their kids away from the screens, and the next day they are exhausted and have a hard time taking them to school because the kids are so tired.
The teachers discussed how they encouraged their students to participate in team sports to encourage face-to-face communication and conflict resolution. However, while some online safety and internet use is covered in school, guidance on living with technology, resilience to challenges and using technology in a balanced way could be more explicit.
The PHSE Association – a national body for personal, social, health and economic education – provides guidance on online safety and curriculum skills such as .
In the classroom, this could be as simple as working on how to make informed decisions about the use of technology – such as For example, being more cautious when online activities involve talking to strangers or recognizing whether spending time on the internet is a significant time investment. This could include using social media posts as real-world examples to encourage children and young people to be informed, critical and resilient about content they are likely to see and interact with.
Teachers felt that including online safety in the curriculum would be valuable, as would providing opportunities for children and young people to talk about their experiences and content with technology. A teacher said:
There are predators out there and we discuss online safety issues with my students, but some things should also be part of the curriculum and parents should have access to them as well.
The teachers emphasized that they too need support in their knowledge of technology and suggested that this should be included more in teacher training. A teacher said:
We need to keep up with the times and if this pandemic has taught us anything it is that not all of us are keeping up… one-off training is not enough, schools need to invest in continuous professional development related to technology.
Children and young people can reap significant benefits from technology, but there are also risks. More attention to how teachers can address this in school can be an invaluable way of helping children and young people understand and balance their time online.
Sarah Hodge, Lecturer in Psychology and Cyberpsychology, Bournemouth University
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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