Opinion: We Need Technology Breaks

Students suffering from screen fatigue need time away from Chromebooks

Source: Creative Commons
by Madison Osborne, staff writer

Students need breaks throughout the day. In elementary school, we got snack breaks, recess and specials (gym, art, music). Almost all students are still children, and aside from being a child we are humans sitting at desks all day. Staring at screens is not helping us learn anything.

I believe that breaks from technology would benefit students’ ability to learn and retain information as well as keep students in the school building.

There are more absences now than ever, causing so much missing work and overall lack of motivation. The fact is, after elementary school, students don’t get breaks and it shows in their schoolwork. Breaks in between long hours of learning have proven to be beneficial for students, especially when our eyes get so tired and dry. Not to mention the headaches from staring at our screens all day. We’re not adults yet. Let us have our childhood, we have our whole lives to sit at a desk and work, so while we’re still young bring fun back into the school building.

With new precautions and everything that’s going on in the world, most of students’ schoolwork is now all on computers and laptops. Given COVID has been deemed an airborne virus, the original reason we have gone digital – to avoid touching and spreading germs on surfaces – has now become irrelevant. While this computer-dominant learning lightens our backpacks (fewer textbooks and heavy binders filled with paper), we’re spending too much time on screens, especially for extended periods of time. 

Too much screen time can create nuisances that could lead to a lack of performance and quality when it comes to schoolwork. “Too much time with digital devices can cause problems,” said Jacqueline Busingye, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “Digital eye strain often leads to dry eyes and puts an extra burden on the muscles that help the eye focus. Also, the eyes do not blink as frequently when looking at digital devices, which causes faster disruption and evaporation of the film of tears that protects the surface of the eye. That can cause minor eye irritations such as burning and stinging.” Clearly, being on computer screens has many downsides that could all be avoided with technology breaks.

Why aren’t schools listening to the professionals? It is proven that not taking regular breaks during long learning periods can lead to a significant decrease in academic performance and, in some cases, things like anxiety, insomnia and depression. 

I want to share a study by Alejandro Lleras, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, in which four groups of 21 people did the same repetitive computerized task for 50 minutes. The first group worked non-stop for the entire 50 minutes, the second group memorized four numbers before the 50 minutes started and then were told to inform the research team if the numbers popped up on their screen. The third group got two five-minute breaks to take when they wanted, and the fourth and final group was told to disregard the numbers. The performance of groups One, Two and Four steadily decreased until the 50-minute mark. Researchers said that Group Three – the group that got the two quick breaks – stayed sharp and on task the entire time they were working. Based on this study and given that our class periods range from 50 to 70 minutes, we would likely find more academic success if we were allowed breaks during class periods.

Furthermore, an effective technology break consists of more than just putting your devices down. Cornell Health says that a break is more effective when you’ve exercised the body and mind. Out of all the breaks we got in elementary school my favorite was probably recess, as I’m sure many others feel the same way. Not only was it my favorite but it was the break that I felt the most refreshed after. I didn’t know this then but now I know it was because I exercised my mind and body. You don’t have to run a marathon or do a puzzle, but simple things like taking a walk, a mask break, or playing “Would You Rather?” are great ways to have an effective learning break.

It is also worth noting that, according to StudentAssembly.org, the average student misses around 18 days of school a year. I think that with breaks throughout the day we could cut this number down, as well as the number of tardies. Being late to school is also a huge problem that I think could be helped with breaks throughout the day and a later start to the school day. Read Keira Kilkenny’s article about later starts to the school day if you want more information.

You may be asking, “Why give students breaks when some of them don’t even do their work?” I understand where you’re coming from, but have you ever been so tired that the idea of taking a shower or feeding yourself seems like a struggle? Going to work five days a week for seven hours year after year, the fun that you once had at work slowly disappears and instead you’re stressing. Have you ever quit or just given up on things for a little bit, or doing just enough to not get fired? I’m sure many adults are nodding to this… but we are kids and students. We shouldn’t ever feel this burnt out (and neither should adults).

In the school building this happens so much as students get into middle school and high school, many students would tell you that they feel burnt out and just way too tired. It has been proven by Harvard Medical students, that breaks throughout study sessions can help your brain lock in the information, and isn’t school just one long study session. With breaks throughout the day, we can get rid of this feeling, play games with our peers and friends and just in general put the fun back in school and give our brains a break. 

One possible solution to make this possible is, instead of getting out at 2:20 p.m., we could get out at 3 p.m. and use the extra time to lengthen the blocks by 10-15 minutes, but use that extra time for breaks that exercise our mind and bodies. That way, they are effective breaks from technology and overall work.

With breaks from technology throughout the school day, it would benefit students’ ability to learn and retain information as well as keeping students engaged and physically in the school building.

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