Tag Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology February 2017

Screen Time: Finding the Balance

Kelly Czarnecki

“You’ll ruin your eyes!”

“You won’t make any real friends that way!”

“You’re not learning anything!”

These are some of the warnings we might have heard or even perpetuated ourselves regarding the use of screen time.

We frequently come across information regarding how much screen time is an appropriate amount for youth depending on their age. We likely even have policies in our libraries on how long one can be logged into a computer.

While the amount of screen time undoubtedly shapes learning, it’s not all bad. Fortunately, there are many ways that libraries can use screens to even help improve learning. In looking at YALSA’s Future of Library Services for and with Teens report, one important area focused on to re-envision teen services in order to better meet their needs is to pay special attention to the gaps in access of technologies.

A recent study published in December 2016 in Child Development talks about incorporating “social scaffolding” or a human guide along with a child’s screen experience. One of the lead authors of the study, Laura Zimmerman, states, “This is an optimal way to promote learning and should not be downplayed at all.”

The Child Development study focused primarily on younger learners but the findings have similar results for school age learners. The transfer of knowledge from one context to another is a skill often needed to be demonstrated. For example, learners that watch a video on how to make something, such as a simple circuit, are then asked to repeat the steps offline to complete the project.

Most libraries have been using screens as part of teen programs for decades. Showing movies and playing video games would easily come in as the top two activities in which teens have long interacted with screens and information. If we pause for a few seconds, we can probably come up with five more ways very quickly that we use screens on a regular basis through programming. Virtual author visits, instructional workshops, and anime might come to mind.

What’s different nowadays is not only the size of the screens themselves but their mobility and functionality. Incorporating the use of screens in different ways offers a lot of programming potential. Far from the passive babysitter to keep youth occupied, screens can increase collaboration with others depending on how they’re used.

Here are some ways to capitalize on screen time through programming with teens:

  • Stream social media (with parameters)
    We all know the wild west that social media can be and what a nightmare if something inappropriate would appear. If your library has its own site such as Twitter and structures the conversation around a particular topic, it can be a great way to expose different opinions and increase dialogue. One year at my library, we used our Twitter feed during a storytime to encourage parents and children to vote on the guilt or innocence of the wolf in “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” This story was also being performed live as part of the collaboration with the library and theater. The stream was visible in the foyer of the library so even those that weren’t participating in storytime or who watched the performance could still engage on another level with the opinions of those that tweeted. For teens, a similar activity might be to have book clubs give their opinions on an issue or even something that is happening in current events or politics. While participants can respond on their mobile devices, projecting the conversation onto a bigger screen can invite further engagement and interaction.
  • Live stream with Facebook (with parameters)
    While we’ve all probably seen ways that Facebook Live can be used negatively, it can also be a great way to meet people’s needs as they’re happening or after the event. Again, we initially piloted this at my library for a storytime which also happened to be a puppet show. Over 2,000 viewers were reached! Depending on your library’s policies regarding live streaming, a focus on the presentation rather than the audience can still accomplish that virtual participation. In regards to teens, programs with presenters who are notified ahead of time that you would like to stream can lend themselves well to live streaming.
  • Introduce apps
    If your library owns a tablet(s), there’s quite a few ways to project the information to a larger audience. Here is a list of software and hardware for the iPad: http://bit.ly/1LmxgLR or the Samsung Galaxy: http://bit.ly/2joDrpX. A floor or desk stand can also be another way to make the screen more versatile, depending on your needs. At my library, we’ve tried apps such as Quiver (http://www.quivervision.com/) a free 3D coloring app, or Keezy, a musical instrument to make beats in minutes, as pop-up programs. These are programs not scheduled at a pre-determined time but are based around when teens are in the library and looking for something to do. Teens can choose additional apps to showcase that will lend themselves to a hands-on experience.
  • Interactive displays
    While it’s quite a step up from streaming social media or projecting a tablet, if your library owns or is looking at getting a kind of interactive whiteboard, the SHARP AQUOS BOARD® (http://siica.sharpusa.com/AQUOS-BOARD) is one example. The board has many features and the touch pens that allow multiple users to write on the screen at the same time allows a more collaborative experience. It has wireless capabilities and screens can be up to 80 inches. Some of the activities we’ve used it for at my library to engage teens include streaming music related to the program. For example, we engaged homeschoolers in superhero themed STEM projects and my co-worker had the great idea to stream superhero-themed music. This got the teens discussing the choices of the playlist and more involved in the activity.

This list is of course by no means exhaustive. There are a lot of additional ways to engage teens through incorporating screen time with programming. Feel free to share what has worked for you!

The next time you might find yourself hesitant to incorporate even more screen time to a library program, remember the benefits it has. It might be just the right approach to get teens’ attention to discover even more about their library!

Czarnecki headshot, used with permission Kelly Czarnecki is manager of The Loft Charlotte, North Carolina. She has written extensively on teens and technology in libraries and teaches online classes for American Library Association. In her spare time, she enjoys learning how to grill, watching the Chicago Bulls, and training for her next triathlon.




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