Screen time and exam time Youth

In my opinion, exams are not the most important thing. The most important is the state of mind before and after the exam. They are not the only route to success.

by Victor Cherubim

When I hear people, especially the elderly gripe: “we survived without the Internet,” then they retort, “why can’t today’s teens just get on with it?” Even as “young?” as I am, I have no sympathy with that view. Here’s why:

I remember, just because there was nothing called the “www,” the World Wide Web “in my day,” does not mean we were better off. 

Besides, can we be satisfied with just “surviving”? We wanted to be excited in living or thriving to achieve our potential. That is the unwritten ambition of every youth, in whatever age. 

However, is it a wonder that the elderly blame today’s youth for their pastime with screen time? But equally, I understand that the more today’s teens spend on the Internet or on their mobiles, the more they let in stress by the backdoor. Too much of anything is bad, particularly, over a long period before they become adults. To mention the cause of stress is an understatement. The more we spend our life “thumbing” our mobiles or the internet and/or both, the more we become addicted, and the more we are addicted the more we “burn out” by the time we become adults. Society has an obligation, if not parents, and medics to keep tabs on screen time by youth. 

The effect of screen time on youth

Today’s children may be going through problems, not necessarily due to COVID-19 which their parents did not have, or have forgotten. 

For young children, especially those under the age of 3, development is happening rapidly. They learn by exploring their environment and watching adults in their lives and imitating them. Excessive screen time exposure may inhibit a child’s ability “to observe, experience and engage” in their world. This could lead to “tunnel vision”.

For older children between 8-18 years researchers find the daily screen time across devices has risen from five (5) to a whopping eight (8) hours since 1999, and since the pandemic as much as 9 hours per day. The effect of youth screen time –TV, Computer/Tablet, Smartphones, Video Games has inordinately increased. Findings have indicated, regardless of the development stage of the youth, that children who have increased screen time are more likely to have poor performance at exams, poor sleep quality and problem behaviour. 

Unlike in previous years, too much screen time can interfere with getting enough exercise, doing homework and even spending time with family and/or friends. It can also contribute to obesity in youth as well as in old age.

Excessive screen time in childhood is also associated with behavioural health problems. A landmark National Institute of  Health (NIH) study that began in 2018  before the pandemic indicates that children who spent more than two (2) hours a day on screen time activities scored lower on languages, verbal reasoning and thinking.

Dr. Jennifer F. Cross, a Clinical Pediatrician at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York has stated: “If young children spend most of their time engaging with an IPad, Smart phone, or their T.V., all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys, or sport, to foster imagination and creativity, exploring nature and outdoors, to develop appropriate social skills”.

From the Point of View of a Child

Can you blame today’s children for the Lockdowns due to the pandemic forcing them indoors? Can you assign blame on children to be otherwise occupied when their parents are working from home and cannot monitor them adequately? Can you squarely call children to account for their time at home without being at school? Can you not assign some blame on mobile phone and social media sites for giving children unlimited access to their friends and having “fun online”?

Of course, children come to know more, learn more of the world, be more open minded and be more politically and socially conscious – all thanks to modern technology.

By the time students are in secondary school, they would have had loads of talks at school, as well as instructions about how to use the internet safely. 

Student opinion

I have also read reports about what students have to say. “We really like FB (Facebook), but we get sucked into it because we do not want to miss out. But we suddenly find we end up trapped not getting our homework done. We keep getting SMS (messages) on our mobile, or we keep wanting to check our emails what’s going on. We plan to go on it for a couple of minutes, to answer……….. But an hour later …….”

A friend told me what his teenage kid complained to his teacher at school: “My parents have banned me, Miss, from using the Internet after 9 p.m. and they make me put my phone downstairs – it’s so unfair”.

Suggested strategies for parents of young children at exam time

For anyone in Sri Lanka leading up to A Level or other exams in February 2022, here are a few suggested approaches.

1. Find out how your child works best and control their study environment. Some children (students) work better on their own; others in coordination and consultation in groups, some children work best with background noise, music, others with pin silence; some at the kitchen table, others in the quiet of their own study (room), some at a desk, some on the floor. Parents have a duty to help their children “create” a proper environment that suits their child/children’s mood. Make sure that adults living with you know what your children need and give space. 

2. Don’t expect your younger siblings to understand why they have to observe “the  

rules” for study time, as they cannot. Your child/children sitting exams may need to get sway by going to study somewhere where they cannot be disturbed, such as a library, or place most conducive for their way of study or revision.

3   Get to know, in fact, discover and get them to use their own learning style. Some students learn better when they write things down, others respond to reading the work aloud. But everyone is different. 

4 Learning styles can also change over time and even over the pandemic. One way your child/children can create a revision Time Table which includes a realistic and includes time for rest and relaxation. 

5  Give them the proper nourishment even with the soaring shortages and set a time slot for sleep as well as exercise. 

6 Ask them or ask their teacher to make sure they know exactly how each exam subject works. E.g. the number of questions they need to answer and to allot the necessary time, as well as for final revision.

7 Parents need to be prepared and be positive about their child/children’s success giving them the confidence they need. This is most important. 

8 Parents also need to be kind not only to their child/children, but also to themselves. Knowing that any hobbies or exercise during their leisure can help the child’s brain unwind and make them able to retain information better.

My experience, which may or may not count?

2022 is a year full of hope for you and for me. Let us want the best for the education of our children at this year’s exams. 

In my opinion, exams are not the most important thing. The most important is the state of mind before and after the exam. They are not the only route to success. They need good relaxation techniques, strategies before they sit the exam and also they can use very quickly in an exam room. 

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