Are your kids struggling with too much screen time? Children face all kinds of digital distractions, from cell phones to video games. For parents, finding the right balance can be tough.
School is out for the day at Keaau Elementary and 2nd grader Jozia Harper is ready to head home. He knows he has to finish his homework first before playtime. Another household rule is that he can't play his Nintendo Wii if he has school the next day, but that doesn't stop him from writing a note to his mom begging to play video games on his favorite toy.
"It's like you're actually in the game, like you can move around and stuff,” explained Harper.
"What was supposed to be a gift, honestly, just turned into a nightmare,” said Jozia's mother, Christina Harper. "He would get on and it was like he was hypnotized. He wouldn't hear us when we would call his name. We just said, ‘Ok, you're not prepared for this.' So it got put into the top of the closet."
Then Jozia started sneaking off to play games on his parents' electronic devices.
"We were finding him in the closet. He would hide under the covers with it. If we ever lost a phone or the tablet we knew he had it somewhere," Christina said.
Christina knew things had to change because she couldn't completely unplug her son from technology. All 877 students at Keaau Elementary are assigned their own laptop since the Hawaii State Department of Education chose the school for a digital curriculum pilot project. The principal said there are strict controls on the computers to ensure that they enhance the learning experience.
"The main part was can the teachers refine their practice to accept the use of the device? The last thing you want would be the device to be a babysitter for a child or for a child to be engaged in maybe too many movies or things of that nature," explained Chad Keone Farias, principal of Keaau Elementary.
Farias said he is seeing results in better attendance and improved test scores in the high-poverty community.
"We're right at the state average in reading and above the state average in math, well above the state average in science, and I'd credit that some to the use of technology," said Farias.
Over at Assets School on Oahu, students and teachers embrace high-tech tools. The children must bring a laptop to class and lessons are tailored to meet their specific needs.
"Our teachers will do online discussions and leverage the social media in class. The photography class that you saw uses Flickr,” said Dr. Suzy Travis, high school principal at Assets. “What we find is the kids who sometimes have difficulty participating in classroom discussions… when you get them online, their voice comes out."
Teachers also make sure that the teenagers are aware of potential pitfalls.
"Helping them to recognize if it means putting your phone on the table and turning it down or putting it away for that class period and how not to pull yourself and be hijacked," Travis said.
The school steps in to work with the parents if the behavior starts to interfere with daily life.
"It's usually not the technology that's the issue. There's another personal or social or other piece at the root of that issue that needs to be addressed," said Travis.
For the Harper family in Keaau, the turning point came when Christina and her husband realized their own bad habits.
"I'm Facebooking or maybe I'm actually doing something that is balancing the financial statements, I could be working, but all he sees is a tablet and mom focused on the tablet,” she said.
They're now reconnecting with new household rules. Self-control isn't always easy, but for this family it's not game over.