PBS Special “Web Junkie” on the Impact of Screen Time on Children

Posted on January 10, 2016 at 2:02 pm

The New York Times reports that “Web Junkie,” a special to be shown January 11, 2016 on PBS, has some disturbing data for parents about the impact of screen time on children.

Excessive use of computer games among young people in China appears to be taking an alarming turn and may have particular relevance for American parents whose children spend many hours a day focused on electronic screens. The documentary “Web Junkie,” to be shown next Monday on PBS, highlights the tragic effects on teenagers who become hooked on video games, playing for dozens of hours at a time often without breaks to eat, sleep or even use the bathroom. Many come to view the real world as fake.

Chinese doctors consider this phenomenon a clinical disorder and have established rehabilitation centers where afflicted youngsters are confined for months of sometimes draconian therapy, completely isolated from all media, the effectiveness of which remains to be demonstrated.

This is consistent with the findings in Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. When I spoke to her last fall, she said,

There is an amazing statistic that there has been a 40 percent decline in all the ways we know how to measure empathy among college students in the past 20 years and most of it in the past 10 years. That’s just an alarming number. And another fascinating experiment is that if you leave college students alone and just ask them to sit without a device and without a book for six minutes they will administer electric shocks to themselves rather than just sit quietly with their own thoughts. So there are two parallel developments: incapacity to emphasize and a lack of capacity for solitude.

I think these things go together because both of them are what you would expect if from the very youngest stages we give people a screen to go to at the moment they feel the tiniest boredom. And that’s what’s happening. There are screens for baby bouncers. There are screens on potty trainers. There are robots that will read to your child instead of you sitting and talking to your child. So when I first got into this project I was asked to consult by a middle school. It was just a regular middle school and their teachers were saying that the students were not behaving for example the way 12-year olds should behave on the playground. They were behaving more like seven and eight year olds. That is to say they were being cruel to each other and excluding each other and didn’t seem to be able to put themselves in the place of other children. They couldn’t seem to be able to imagine what other children felt like which of course is the signal accomplishment of empathy.

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Parenting Television

Start the School Year With a No-Screen Week

Posted on September 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm

A new study shows another good reason to detox from all screen time now and then, especially for kids.  Children who take a five-day break from all screens are better at reading real-life facial expressions to understand the emotions of the people around them.  Psyblog described the study, which set up a camp program to occupy children used to spending 4-5 hours a day watching screens.

At the camp, the children weren’t allowed to use any electronic devices, while the other group went about their normal, everyday lives.

It was quite a change for those children who attended the Pali Institute as the usual amount of time they spent texting, watching TV and playing video games was 4.5 hours per day — and that was on a typical school day.

After five days at the Institute, the children’s ability to read facial emotions improved tremendously in comparison to those who’d had their electronic devices for the week.

The number of errors they made on the test reduced by around one-third.

Yalda Uhls, who was the study’s lead author, said:

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication.

If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”


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Elementary School Parenting Preschoolers

Should We Ban Hand-Held Devices for Kids?

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

Cris Rowan has a provocative but compelling piece in Huffington Post arguing that no one under 12 should use smart phones, tablets, or other devices.  Her reasons include studies linking the amount of screen time to radiation exposure, obesity, and attachment and developmental disorders.  Of course, a lot of this applies equally to adults, who should be careful about overexposure and especially the example they set in the use of their own devices.

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Commentary Parenting

Participate in an Important Study of the Impact of Screen Time on Kids

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 8:00 am

Parents — Here is your chance to help scientists who are studying the impact of screen time on children.  No generation has been as saturated with media as this one.  Babies learn to play with smartphones and tablets before they can talk.  Children expect to be able to watch movies on a 10-minute drive to the grocery store.  You can help scientists understand the scope and impact of screen time on kids by taking ten minutes to fill out this survey (you might even win a prize, just for participating).  The study is being undertaken by Dr. Robert Pressman who told the Boston Globe:

Technology is not all negative. It’s like water?—?we need to have water, but if we have too much, we drown. Technology is extraordinarily compelling. It’s addictive. It’s a time sink. Clinically, we have children spending hours with a screen after they go to . They may not go to sleep until 1 or 2 in the morning. Parents are exasperated; they have given up.

And it starts at an early age. The other day, in the elevator, a mother had two toddlers in this double playing with some child-oriented screen. They weren’t interacting with each other, weren’t interacting with Mom. I try to be open-minded, to say it’s entertainment. Should it be eliminated? Definitely not. It’s an important advancement. I get the biggest kick out of seeing my 5-year-old granddaughter playing on her VTech while her older brother is engrossed in a new app on his iPad. I also wonder what impact it might have on them. Like most parents, I’m hoping to get some answers.

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