Do Children Really Spend Too Much Time in Front of Screens?
Once again the experts in child development and child health are warning parents about exposing their children to TV and videos before the age of two. This adds to the list of warnings about too much TV/video exposure during later preschool years or too much time playing video games or too much time on the internet. The concerns are that it will stunt brain development and/or social skills and that it contributes to a passive learning mode that reduces creativity and effective problem solving.
This latter issue really stirs my juices. I have complained for decades that public education is a passive process and fails to stimulate creativity and teach the kind of problem solving and teamwork that the real world requires for success. I wish the American Academy of Pediatrics would produce a statement that public education is bad for our children’s health!
Sorry to digress but it’s hard for me to ignore the narrow vision of those who are trying to advise parents especially when they rely on limited research data and a myopic perspective of what the relationship is between childhood experience and adult success in work and family life. An example of the latter would be a follow-up to my last column about the effects of too much day care. The increased social aggressiveness found in 6th graders who had spent more time in day care might be a mild concern in the 6th grade (those children, as I pointed out, were not identified as behavioral problems), but we have no idea if that increased aggressiveness proves to be a valuable asset in their adult lives when such behavior may actually prove helpful.
That’s one of the pitfalls of experts giving rather simplistic advice when the actual long term outcomes are very complex. Suppose it turns out that, by adulthood, those same “more aggressive” 6th graders are more successful in their personal and work lives. Will the headline then read, “Preschoolers who spend limited time in day care grow up to be too passive”?
In my opinion, the main problem with all these dire warnings is that it is stimulated by research that is very limited in focus and which uses a backward view of the lives of our children. What I mean by this last point, and the key theme of this article, is that it places those lives in the context of what our world has been rather than what it is going to be.
The pace of change in our global society is increasing at a geometric rate. Faster and faster, technology spurs an ever more rapid impact on our lives. I cannot count the number of times that my friends and I have commented on how much cell phones have changed our lives. Yet, just look at this one device. Every few months it morphs into something new and more dynamic. Now one can not only take pictures and videos with a cell phone, one can download TV shows, access the internet, and listen to your favorite music. Activities that were once the province of large, stationary desk top computers can now be duplicated on a small, hand held “phone.”
This is but one example, albeit a very visible example, of how our lives are impacted by technological change. But cell phones represent only a tiny fraction of what is happening.
I think about the ways in which my life has changed in the first year of my retirement. (Keep in mind I am a very limited technophile.) I have been tutored in using Adobe Photoshop and have learned to edit digital images in ways that boggle my mind. Now I’m scanning slides accumulated over a period of 40 years, editing and organizing them. Soon I will be able to send those images to my TV screen! I already can share my pictures using online websites such as Kodakgallery. Or, I can share pictures using a free IM-type program called Skype, which allows me to talk to my grandson on the other side of the world, send pictures, or just type messages back and forth. Then there is Vonage, which allows my son who lives overseas to call me on a local number as if he lived around the corner!