Although everybody has ranted and raved about this type of thing before, the obsessive use of screens by America’s youth (and others) may be getting so bad that it’s becoming a clinical problem and affecting behavior. Today’s screen-aholics are morphing into something different and unfamiliar.
And yet people, cultures and behaviors change to the extent that, in the absence of such excessive screening, there would still be enormous differences in the way people behave now compared to back when. If any one of us tried to have a conversation with someone who lived a couple of hundred years ago, for example, there would be nuanced and blatant disconnects in all manner of discourse and body language that would be at least awkward and possibly mortifying.
The talk concerning screen time has been widely debated ever since TV came into mainstream use back in the 1950s — and possibly in a similar vein dating back to the golden age of radio when people plopped down and listened to ball games, serials and whatnot instead of reading or doing something productive. And overall our society has prospered enormously. Concerned parents could always turn off the radio or the TV.
Even with the advent of PCs and laptops, parents could impose reasonable guidelines such as restricted use to “public” areas within the house, implementation of filters and time limits.
But now, with smartphones, the equation has shifted into a realm of darkness where parents often have little to no idea what their kids are reading, texting, Snapchatting, sexting, watching, Instagramming or Cyber Dusting.
We’d like not to resist technology out of fear and would like to successfully navigate the complications of a networked public, but how? It’s a scary and unfamiliar new world, much like drugs were for our concerned parents and grandparents back in the ’60s and ’70s.
Between smartphones, Xboxes, iPads, regular TV and so forth, there are enough screen temptations to fully engross susceptible minds and ensnare them in parallel universes of lurid fantasy, dangerous role-playing and artificial social interaction that arguably affect normal development, routine enjoyment of the outdoors, pursuit of hobbies and genuine intellectual interests. You know there’s a problem when two people can literally be side-by-side and find it easier to text one another than actually speak.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, in its 2013 policy statement on “Children, Adolescents, and the Media,” the American Academy of Pediatrics cited the following horrifying statistics from a Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010: The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hour per day.
The article also notes that doctors in China now consider excessive use of computer games among young people a clinical disorder and are starting to take draconian steps to try to do something about it.
Assuming we don’t do the same, there’s no question that some of today’s youth are becoming social shut-ins, unable to cope with maturation process or anything else because their whole world is a distraction — a world where violence is so blatant and horrible that young viewers become desensitized, a world where there’s no one to talk to so there’s no communication, no personal interaction — only nothing; or at least nothing that can be particularly useful. So perhaps it’s an overreaction, but technology may be getting the upper hand on humanity instead of the other way around, which is completely backwards.
We all love modern technologies in a way. And it’s just so easy to let children distract themselves and stay preoccupied. It certainly makes life easier for parents.
But it’s just the latest and most egregious example of how such an approach may have deleterious consequences — particularly in light of the fact that many parents don’t know or understand what they’re dealing with — which only makes matters worse.
So good luck, parents. We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do to grasp control of this problem.
Although it’s almost bitterly ironic to recommend the following, there’s an excellent video on — where else but YouTube — which illustrates through pictures and verse the core problem. It’s called “Look Up.”
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at email@example.com.