We live in the digital era, or in other words, we live in a time that is not only dominated by technology and screens, but built upon them. Many of the resources and assets the world has access to are directly tied to technology, requiring a large portion of the population to be focused on this technology day in and day out. For those who were born prior to this tech boom of the last few decades, adapting to the shift from analog to digital was just that, an adjustment that took time to complete and may still be in process. On the other hand, the younger generations were brought into the world with no concept of what the world would look like without the mass amounts of technology around them. This, of course, creates a different perspective for these young minds, but it also has them sitting in front of screens for hours every day from a young age. From inside the home, to classrooms, and everything in between, screens are unavoidable. However, the connotation surrounding screen time may not be as valid as it may seem.
Screen time, usually in the eyes of parents or other adults, is often seen as something that is rather negative due to its disconnect from “the real world”. But as we continue to advance and grow in the digital age, the line between “the real world” and the “digital world” is becoming more and more blurred. A great portion of real world activities, responsibilities, and interactions we have as humans in the 21st Century are through screens, and at times it may feel that we experience life this way more than the in-person alternative. Because of this, the negatives surrounding screen time are quickly brought to our attention, but consequently, the idea that screens can actually be beneficial as well is gaining traction.
Source: Inc. Magazine
One angle that the concept of screen time can be analyzed is not necessarily how much time is being spent looking at screens, but what is being done with that time. Children, for example, experience a lot of their media consumption these days through the computer or mobile devices where a seemingly limitless amount of videos, games, and music are available to them. And while sitting in front of a screen consuming media may seem like a newer concept, Vice President of PBS KIDS Digital, Sara DeWitt, argues that perceptions of kids and screen time now parallels perceptions of kids and television back in the 1970’s. In her TED talk covering the issue, she points out that mindlessly consuming YouTube videos and movies on repeat isn’t necessarily a valuable experience for children, but talking to children about what they are consuming, asking questions, and identifying lessons learned from this time can be.
DeWitt references a study from Texas Tech that found a heightened sense of empathy in children after watching a specific show, but this increase in empathy was only found after asking the children questions about what they learned. This trend mirrors how writing something down after hearing it can help people memorize it later on. Having children apply what they are passively learning may help cement it in their minds.
“Just the act of talking to kids about their media can be incredibly powerful,” DeWitt states.
So while the fear that kids are rotting their brains sitting in front of screens is an idea that has transcended many decades, it seems a little participation from parents and adults can help turn screen time into a rewarding activity for children.
In addition to developing emotional skills and other lessons, screen time can also help kids develop digital literacy. Digital literacy as defined by The American Library Association (ALA) is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” This skill is becoming more important as time goes on, especially since almost every aspect of life has a digital counterpart if not being entirely digital already. When we are young, our minds are more easily moldable, making the aforementioned transition to the digital world generally easier for children than adults. Jordan Shapiro, the author of “The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World” said, “We all live our lives digitally, so we want these normal academic skills to be contextualized through a digital framework.”
Children are still able to learn the important social skills such as effective communication through screen time, while also being exposed to digital nuances that many of us were not introduced to until adulthood. Using technology can be beneficial to developing certain skills and introducing children to concepts and ideas that they may not see in the world around them otherwise. This of course is a double edged sword considering all of the negative things these devices and the internet also provide access to. A solution to this is again, some participation from the adults around children using screens. Things like parental locks and screen timers can be used to help filter what a child sees when using technology and having timers can mitigate the possibility of excessive use. Curated content paired with discussions around the things kids are learning from said content can turn a mind-numbing experience into one that has real and recurring benefits.
On top of this, certain digital tools such as videogames and art-related programs can help users explore their creativity and help develop a further understanding of themselves. There are many games that are actually meant to stimulate the brain through various puzzles and can disguise something that people may view as boring or work as a fun and engaging game. For example, the web game Wordle has taken the world by storm and is simultaneously challenging users to be creative and technical with their language skills while being a fun competition with friends. On the other hand, programs like Procreate or games like Minecraft are opportunities for users to utilize their creative sides and develop certain skills in a user-friendly and fairly accessible fashion.
The key takeaway in the screen time debate is that it can be both good and bad. It all depends on adding certain variables like curated content and post-screen time discussions to take a potential negative and turn it into a viable positive. The connotation surrounding screen time is no more than an extension of worries from 50 years ago, and while they are indeed valid, there can be many upsides to the concept as well. Like anything, using screens in moderation is a more effective and healthier option, but the all-or-nothing negative attitude towards screen time may not be considerate of all of the possibilities.
Chase Mulonas is a 23 years old living in Grand Rapids, MI. Video games, Esports, and all forms of media are the things he is most passionate about and he is actively working to make a full-time career out of the combination of the two. In his free time he enjoys playing games with friends, collecting vinyl records, and watching professional esports.