Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Blame the Screens

A work colleague sent me a link to this article from Psychology Today which blames all of societies' ills on screentime.  As you may guess from my introduction, I am not convinced and am actually rather annoyed by the irresponsible representation.  First of all, any solution which suggests that there is only a single cause to multiple issues gets an automatic red-alert wishful-thinking alarm from me.  Second, the article uses a lot of alarmist language but not a lot of actual explanation or scientific backing up.  Some of what they talk about does have valid points but the whole thing strikes me as overly dramatic and intended to start parenting panic.

There are six main points in the article:
1) Screen time disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock.  This is based in truth.  Any light after dark disrupts the natural sleep rhythm and body clock, which means that this has been a problem since humans first figured out fire.
2) Screen time desensitizes the reward system.  Again a nugget of truth that the rapid fire succession of images sets up a trance state which feels relaxing and good.  However, the assertion that this somehow destroys the capacity to ever concentrate or function is absurd.
3) Screen time produces light at night.  Same point as number 1 but dressed up in slightly different clothing.
4) Screen time produces stress reactions.  They don't even try to explain this one but instead talk about how high levels of stress can create problems.  There's no mention of how screen time creates a stressful situation.
5) Screen time overloads the sensory system.  Again, no tie in with screen time but the section talks about how poor focus can make it difficult to control impulses or cope with unexpected changes.
6) Screen time reduces physical activity.  Well, duh.  That's a valid issue to be concerned about but it's not a catastrophic one.

I know from my own experience and watching my children that screen time hypes us up but is also paradoxically soothing.  I've talked about the challenges I have in managing screen time and how it is the cause of major tantrums.  That's consistent with it being a major reinforcer.

However, to suggest that it is the root of all evil rather misses the point.  It needs to be managed and controlled but I believe our lives would be significantly poorer if we got rid of it.

Screen time is story time, whether it's video games, movies, television, or YouTube clips.  It may not always be awesome and uplifting stories, but life isn't like that.  By sharing in bits of different experiences, my kids and I can move beyond our own limited corner of the world.  Anything which encourages its participants to broaden their thinking and open their minds can be a good thing.  

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