Digital First

The 20-20-20 Rule: Why Students Need To Take Screen Breaks

contributed by Jenna Smith

Many students turn to alternative methods of education because of the flexibility those programs offer.

In online schooling, for example, they can schedule class time around what works for them, integrating their passions or responsibilities into their day. On the outside, it might seem like this flexibility gives them plenty of time to get away from the computer, but the truth is, many online students end up working nonstop, for hours on end, to get their work done.

Just like adults need breaks from work and traditional schools offer lunch and nutrition breaks, online students need to create intentional moments to relax and reboot throughout the day. Studies have shown that taking breaks can actually help students become more positive, productive, and successful.

Benefits of a Screen Break

Spending uninterrupted time on projects and online assignments is important to student success, but so is taking breaks. Here are a few of the benefits of taking a break from the computer.

1. Improved Attention

The longer a student sits at their computer, the more difficult it becomes for them to focus. Research has shown that adolescents’ attention spans decrease once instruction goes beyond 30 minutes. Even a small break can give their brains a rest and help them to reset their focus and continue to work.

2. Increased Productivity

Since students’ focus and attention can only be held for so long, their productivity dwindles as well at the 30-minute mark. Regular breaks give students the chance to burn off energy so they’re less distracted and more productive when it’s time to study.

3. Enhanced Memory

If students are given the opportunity to digest the information they just learned, they’ll have a higher likelihood of retaining it (see the cognitive load theory). Taking a short break, then revisiting the subject hammers down what they’re learning and ultimately optimizes their memory.

4. Reduced Stress

Students can get overwhelmed—and subsequently stressed—when they’re faced with prolonged instruction. When they’re allowed to step away from the computer, they have the chance to relax and have some fun. Breaks that include physical activity can help them relieve their stress even more.

5. Extrinsic Rewards

Breaks can be used as rewards to motivate your child to concentrate during their lessons and coursework. When your child realizes they only need to pay attention for a set amount of time, and then get to take a break to go outside, grab a snack, or play a game, they’ll be more likely to dedicate that focus to their studies.

One Solution: Consider the 20-20-20 rule

It’s important to keep in mind that the effects breaks have on memory, productivity, and attention will vary from student to student. Work with your child to determine a schedule that fits their needs the best.

Experiment with frequencies and lengths. Some students may want to power through until they feel their attention fading; others may need to set a timer so they know how much longer they’re required to focus. Chances are, if you’re bringing up the idea of more frequent breaks and giving your child some control in how they’re employed, they’ll be eager and excited to get to work.

Because frequent breaks increase students’ potential for success, help your student by setting up a system that’ll work for them. If they’re spending the majority of their time in front of a computer, start off with the 20-20-20 Rule.

While it’s not enough of a standard to completely address the screen time concern, the 20-20-20 rule is a helpful and easy-to-remember guide to work breaks into their schedule, plus it reduces the strain on their eyes that comes from extended screen time.

Every 20 minutes, your child should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Instead of just turning away from the computer, have the student get up and move around at this interval.

So, the next time your child seems fidgety or inattentive, give them a break! It’ll encourage their interest in school and keep them motivated throughout the day. Check out our blog for more success tips for your online student.