I’m still obsessing over…

I'm still obsessing over the whole screen time thing. I think there's two issues for me:

  • is there something physiologically damaging about the screen itself? -- does it hurt your eyes, brain, fingers, etc. This issue is clarified when you think about eReaders -- there's no content difference between reading a book in print versus on a Kindle, so it's just a question of whether the technology is physiologically problematic. I don't really know the answer to this one, and I'm not sure whether studies have come to any definite answers. I mean, there are some obvious carpal tunnel, etc. issues with typing a lot, etc. But my general level of tech use doesn't cause any noticeable physiological damage. There may be stuff going on I'm not aware of, though, and as a parent in particular, that's worrying. (Of course, when you tell a kid to go outside and climb a tree, they may also fall out of it and break a limb.)

  • is there something psychologically damaging about electronics versus other entertainment? -- clearly, there can be, witness the couple who were so caught up in Warcraft that their baby died. Now, one could argue that folks like that were probably not the most attentive parents regardless. But I can certainly testify to having spent hours upon hours totally engrossed in a computer game, to the point of aches and pains. And again, while you could get that same experience playing a game in real life (how many people injure themselves doing sports?), it seems less directly addictive.

I admit, I'm wary of anything addictive; I'm enough of a control freak that it makes me nervous when I find myself doing something that later seems like it would have been against my better judgement, if I'd had any judgement left to exercise. And as well, I think that at least for me, there's a certain tedious ennui that often comes with computer games in particular. A sense that I've spent twelve hours churning through this horde of orcs, and what exactly do I have to show for it? A shiny new virtual sword? It's thrilling in the moment, but long-term, forgettable. It doesn't build skills that are of any use in the rest of my life.

All that said, I'm generally in favor of relaxation and entertainment -- life is stressful, and sometimes you need to decompress, maybe by blowing shit up, or sinking into the drama of your favorite soap opera. And my house would be MUCH dirtier if I didn't have TV to keep me company while I did chores. I have no firm conclusions on any of this, and we're not actively restricting screen time yet, ours or our kids. But I'm keeping a wary eye on it. And I cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription a month ago. I got tired of jumping through someone else's random hoops. I'd rather read books, or write them.

6 thoughts on “I’m still obsessing over…”

  1. Another issue with tv (not screen time – thats a different issue) is that tv is passive rather than active so it is less stimulating than imaginative play. I don’t think that that maes it bad but you do want to make sure it’s balanced out with other types of play/relaxation. For both kids and adults. Which it sounds lie your family already does.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    See, I’m not sure I buy the ‘passive’ thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but when I’m watching a show, I’m often watching critically. I’m thinking about the story, engaged with the characters, sometimes taking the plot apart — okay, I’ll grant kids aren’t doing that last one. But how is that more passive than reading a story? TV and film have gotten really really good in the last few decades — they’re often so smart and interesting. My kids have learned a surprising amount of Spanish from Dora and Diego, and actually mix it into their daily dialogue.

    I do think doing ‘things-with-hands’ thing is interesting and worthwhile. I do think there’s probably a value to that, but rather than think about it in terms of restricting screen, I’d think of it in terms of providing lots of hand-manipulation opportunities. Kavi draws obsessively for half an hour to an hour every day, and that’s just what she’s doing at home — I think there’s a lot more of that sort of thing in pre-school. And Anand is super-into cooking right now. I’m all in favor of hand stuff, for adults too. We took a knife skills cooking class last night! 🙂 Fun!

  3. There’s a book called Everything Bad is Good For You that takes a critical look at the science behind the effects of TV and video games on kids. It’s a few years old, so won’t have the latest research, but it’s a good read, and I found it provided a healthy perspective on the whole issue.

  4. I agree that if there’s something physiologically damaging about looking at a screen, then limiting screen time is a good idea. But given that a big percentage of modern adults in industrialized countries spend all their work time looking at a screen, if it causes physiological damage then modern Western society as a whole is in trouble.

    (Though I can imagine a scenario in which kids are more affected than adults.)

    (On a side note, I would expect that even if “screens” in general do cause such a problem, the non-Fire version of the Kindle probably doesn’t cause it—because the Kindle isn’t emitting light, and I suspect it isn’t emitting other electromagnetic radiation most of the time; it just sets the e-Ink globules to black or white and then they’re like paper, with light bouncing off them.)

    Andrea: I disagree about the passive/active thing. (Unless you also consider books to be passive, in which case I may be misunderstanding what you’re saying.) For much more about this, see my rant about passive vs active and the comments there from various people.

  5. I know I’m late to this, but I’m with Andrea on this. You can make TV watching active, but only if you have hours and weeks and months of doing so, usually in other realms. That requires a certain -space- to think about characters, motivations, potentials, a space that you have to create. You can create that space by discussion of the author/ character’s choices, or by the space that it takes to read something and fill in emotional content, motivations etc. I used to read books to the kids in my life (not my own) and there was a lot of play in the reading of it, which would vary from occasion to occasion, would lift off into writing our own stories. Most TV does not give us that, some TV does. It’s a spectrum, and reading is more passive than writing your own stories, but more active than watching a fully laid-out story on TV.

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