An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Emily Cherkin '96: Screen time consultant

In addition to working with schools, Cherkin consults with families on appropriate and intentional use of technology.

Screen time consultant  |  Seattle, WA

May 2019

By Jim Collins


uring the decade she taught in middle school at the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, Emily Cherkin witnessed a dramatic shift in adolescent behavior. When she started, a student with a flip phone was an outlier. Ten years later, a school survey found that 96 percent of seventh graders had their own smartphones. “The social dramas that played out on those phones were more pressing to the students than anything I could try and teach them,” says Cherkin. “I thought: ‘This is not going away, and it will drastically affect kids in ways we can’t even imagine. I can’t not address this.’”

She read everything she could about phone use and social media and digital engagement, talked with researchers just starting to study the subjects, and developed a one-day-a-week curriculum based on screen time, media literacy, bullying, and social skills. She continued educating herself, brought her teaching to other schools, was invited to give talks, and, in 2018, opened a consulting practice.

In December that year, she spoke about computer use and screen time with the Lakeside community. “I’m seeing firsthand the impact of technology being used too heavily or unthoughtfully in so many schools,” she says. “I believe now that I’m fighting for my kids’ cognitive future. This is the hill I’m going to die on. “I’m not anti-technology. I’m tech-intentional. Requiring sixth graders to turn in their essays online? That doesn’t teach much executive function.”

“We don’t have enough long-term research on the subject because this is all so new. We simply don’t know for sure what the implications are. But there are enough red flags to make us all need to pay attention.”

“Whether it’s a school or parents and guardians, we should all be asking three fundamental questions before using technology: What do we gain? What do we lose? What are we modeling?”

“Where is our village right now? Should it be online? Do we want our village to be online?”