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Screen time: how much is too much? (nature.com)
190 points by pseudolus 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 266 comments



I find the article presenting "screen time" as if it's a single thing highly problematic.

Ephemeralization has led to a phone or tablet being equivalent to a novel, textbook, comic book, telephone, game console, TV, academic journal (I do, in fact know an 8 year old who reads academic journals), and more. With parents often being much more hesitant than they were 2-3 decades ago to allow children to go anywhere unsupervised, it's often the primary means by which children interact with each other privately.

Even a subset like social media use can entail a broad range of different behaviors. One person uses social media to talk with a small circle of friends and family. Another puts on some sort of public display to get attention from strangers. A third plays the addictive "engagement" game.

Of course, an observer who just sees a kid holding a tablet has little idea how they're using it. A parent wishing to direct their child's activities has new challenges when a screen can be used for so many different things.


I agree with you on the ephemeralization of the phone/tablet/computer. And honestly, that's the problem. The device is so "powerful" these days that it literally can become the entire sole source of entertainment, knowledge, and socialization.

As parents, we want our children have well rounded experiences. To do things in the physical world. And it's getting increasingly difficult to do that. The device is so enticing that nothing else can compare.


And even when you can encourage your child (or yourself -- adults also still need to have well-rounded experiences in the physical world, and outside their comfort zones) to go do something off the screen everyone else is still stuck on it. That's the issue I've been running into lately. Try to go do something, meet new people, etc. and a lot of them are just on their phones, if they're there at all.


It's true. The big reason that kids don't go out and play anymore is that there are no kids outside playing anymore. I live in a neighbourhood where I'm only a few blocks from 2 elementary schools and I never see any kids out playing.


A product of helicopter parenting in many respects. New parents don't tend to like the idea of letting their kids running around the neighborhood. The way those well off enough like to reconcile this with balanced lifestyle is overschedule activities for their kids. They get ze dezignated social time at hockey, soccer, karate every other night. Busy-ing a kid's life has its own pitfalls.


Treating it as an intentional choice is ignoring all the cases of "parent gets investigated or arrested for allowing child outside".

https://people.com/parents/mom-investigated-dcfs-letting-dau...

https://www.parenting.com/blogs/show-and-tell/hayley-parenti...

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/07/arreste...


That's "inside-out" helicopter parenting, where someone else is being the helicopter, not the parent. Kudos to Utah and their "free-range parenting" laws: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/well/family/utah-passes-f...


Local business owner was telling me that police showed up at her business with her 9 year old because the 9 year old was "out on her own". He was walking from the local business to their house, about ... 8 blocks from the business. It's a smallish town (40,000 population, but in this 'old town district', maybe 2-3000?). Police brought the kid back to the business and chastised the business owner, intimating that letting her kid walk home unattended was in violation of some law. She asked for the specific law, which pissed off the officer to no end (because there isn't one here).


What's bizarre is that the cop was probably allowed to do the same as a child.


Yeah! Certainly in my day (which wasn't that long ago!) we ... walked everywhere (or rode a bike) as a kid.


There is safety in numbers; parents will let their kids go out to play when there are other kids around. And depending on where you go in the country, you'll see groups of kids playing or you won't. But it's self feeding, as fewer kids play outside, fewer parents let their kids play outside. My kid has no reason to go outside if there is nobody out there.


True enough, I imagine it would help for kids in the neighborhood to be introduced to each other first.


> we want our children have well rounded experiences

There are some categories, like sport, where even if a kind doesn't have any interest for it, as a parent we have to force them to do a healthy minimum.

But otherwise I tend to think it's not that important to be 'well rounded' as long as the kid have tried a bunch of things. I guess if they at least had a throw at it and decided they don't like it, they know how it was and what they're missing.

From there it seems more efficient to grow their strengths and push the subjects they actually like doing. (and finding out what they like is in itself a process of trying out a variety of things to see what sticks, so both broadening their knowledge of what exists in the world and growing their strengths should go together)


I find it not that problematic because one tends to paint in broad strokes when talking about epidemiology.

If you have a sample of 1000 8-year olds, then you have at least 995 8-year olds that are doing something other than reading an academic journal.

As far as individual kids, judgement calls do have to be made, but it's very challenging to tell what your kids are doing on a screen, particularly if you have multiple kids.


> you have at least 995 8-year olds that are doing something other than reading an academic journal.

Certainly, but what the other thing is makes a huge difference. The content matters more than the medium.


I'm not sure if this is necessarily true. The book Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf actually discusses this. There are quantifiable differences between reading online and reading physically. So much so that even printing out the same journal article can change it. It was an interesting read, to say the least.


I find I retain information a lot better if it's printed, and a lot of memory research supports this as well. It is a lot easier to picture a page in a physical book than even a page deliminated format like PDF.


Agreed, completely. I feel the same when hand writing something as opposed to typing as well, which is why I try to encourage my students to write and not just take pictures on their phones or type it in their phone/computer notepad


Watching YouTube. All 995 of them are watching YouTube.


I like to limit screen time no matter what the activity is simply because it means they are sitting still, with almost no muscle movement, which is not healthy. Whether you are productive on your screens or not is interesting, but not relevant to my motivation when telling my kids to get up, go outside, and move their bodies.

The exception is active games - various dancing games on the playstation are exactly how we compromise on such things.


> I find the article presenting "screen time" as if it's a single thing highly problematic

You have a great point about the multi-modal use of screens, but the Nature article isn’t the source of the lumping. Society at large, especially parents and educators and politicians, are the people concerned about screen time in general, regardless of task.

Much to your point, this article is doing the important work of actually demonstrating that general screen time may not be the sky-is-falling concern that many have, and people who are painting screen time in general as something bad might be overstating or exaggerating the problems. Perhaps there are specific uses that are bad; we may need to ask more specific questions, or we may discover that there are both advantages and disadvantages to the global social change in screen time, and it can’t be simplified into calling it a net negative.


My daughter started exhibiting some addictive behaviors with her phone so now she's limited to 1 hour of screen time daily. Here's a tiny example of her behavior now. Bed time is 10pm. It doesn't matter what is happening, at exactly 9pm she will claim to be tired, go to her room, and use her one hour of screen time. She does this even if we're actively engaged in a family activity such as playing a game together or whatever else she may enjoy doing.

It's this aspect that concerns me, that she continually chooses screen stuff over socialization with friends or family that concerns me far more than what she might specifically be doing on that screen. For what it's worth, she mostly watches vlogs on YouTube.


Have you considered that it may be natural for her to choose screen time at 9pm exactly because you have limited it to her?

Let's say she enjoys several activities equally, yet access to one of them is restricted while access to the others isn't - she can do them as often as she wants. If her bedtime then is at 10, she is allotted one hour to enjoy the restricted activity, she hasn't used that hour today, and the clock strikes 9, why shouldn't she opt for the restricted activity?

Or is your actual goal that you want her to enjoy screen time less than she currently does?

I think there's a difference between 1) wanting your kid to do other things in addition to something that they already enjoy, and to 2) expect them to enjoy it less just because you don't understand why they find it enjoyable.

I also think this is a mistake parents should be more careful about making.

From what you've written it doesn't seem like a case of true addiction to me, but if it is, I apologize, and your concern is probably justified.


Here's an example of her behavior before the 1 hour screen time limit. If we would be out doing family activities and it would be getting close to bed time she would have literal panic attacks because she "didn't get to watch enough Youtube today."

>Or is your actual goal that you want her to enjoy screen time less than she currently does?

The word "enjoy" takes on a twisted meaning once addictive behaviors set in.

Here's a list of "screen" activities that do not currently count against her hour of screen time. Any group screen activity. So if she is playing a video game with friends or family, that does not count against screen time. If she's watching anything educational, including but not limited to videos on how to complete a craft she is performing. Video games played alone but which incorporate physical activity such as "Just Dance" games do not count against screen time. If the family is watching her favorite TV show together, that does not count against "screen time." But she will leave even her favorite TV show to not miss out on her addiction fuel. And she only "willingly" participates in any other activities because her isolated screen time is restricted.

I frankly couldn't care less that she enjoys watching vlogs or videos of kids opening packages. The problem is the social isolation and lack of variety in activities.


When I was young, my parents (for some reason) decided I was lactose intolerant and strictly limited my milk intake.

To this day, I enjoy milk disproportionately.

I'm not saying screens aren't addictive, but limiting someone's access to something often makes them want it even more than they did to start with.


I welcome you to spread this token of wisdom at your next local AA meeting.


As it turns out, American college students drink in far unhealthier ways than European students. It has been suggested that it might have something to do with the absurd legal drinking age of 21.


That's irrelevant since the prohibition came after the addiction was established, not before.


Also see: Alcohol, Cannabis, Portugal's decriminalization etc.


I didn't mean to imply it wasn't sometimes worth it anyway; I apologise if it read that way.

I just meant that you shouldn't be surprised when irregular/unpredictable access to something makes people eager to take every opportunity, and that it's a factor to consider in your strategy.

I think a big difference with the AA is that usually the people going there have decided they (on some level) want to stop drinking, rather than that being an externally imposed restriction.


Back when I was a kid, one of the reasons I preferred paperbacks over hardbacks was because they were easier to hide under the pillow with a flashlight when I was reading them after bedtime. I read books during recess and whenever the teacher was covering something in class that I already knew how to do. I'd read during dinner unless my parents told me not to. Again, this isn't a problem with screens. This is a problem with what screens show you. Have you ever asked her what she does when she goes up to use her hour and, more importantly, why she chooses those activities?


>Have you ever asked her what she does when she goes up to use her hour and, more importantly, why she chooses those activities?

Why do people just impulsively presume that every parent lacks the most basic problem solving capabilities when they say they've struggled with an issue with their child? Yes, of course I've done those things.


Have gone through the same thing. Actually banned my daughter from watching YouTube because she was focusing too much on watching strangers play video games instead of interacting with us (and sometimes even her friends). Things aren't perfect, but I've definitely seen an improvement.


My 5yrs old does exactly the same. We restricted video games to only Saturdays so now he watches random people play video games on youtube all week. We're going to ban Youtube as well at least during the weekdays.


This complete speculation from my side, but I would think that playing video games themselves to be better (or less harmful) than just watching other players. If I had kids, I would be more likely to limit how much they can watch others play and let them play themselves more.

This is however hugely biased from having played a lot of video games as a kid and I felt it to be much more dynamic experience that may even help developing some mental faculties than passively watching anything.


Maybe play some videogames with your kids, if that’s what they like to do.


OP here. In my case any "group screen time" does not count as "screen time" with regards to her viewing limits. My daughter really likes Dr. Who. If we sit down as a family and watch it together, that does not count against her screen time. Playing video games in a group does not count against screen time. Playing video games alone that includes physical activity/exercise such as the "Just Dance" games does not count against screen time. Watching any educational videos including Youtube videos teaching her how to do a craft does not count against her screen time (because an activity is involved).

In spite of all these exceptions what she wants to do most is hole herself off from her friends and family to consume her addiction fuel. If it were as easy as playing a video game with her, that would be wonderful.


Are there any other activities she does for enjoyment that are solitary?

I ask because you're primarily contrasting the solitary video watching that appears to be very important to your daughter with activities that involve others. You then emphasize the solitary nature of the activity with phrases like "hole herself off". It sounds like, in part, she might be seeking solitude.

I certainly won't deny that Youtube and others encourage habitual, compulsive, or addictive behaviors in the name of "engagement", but that may not be the only thing going on.


Good point. Maybe also she watches in order to relate to other kids the next day or so? The kid version of everyone around a watercooler talking about Game of Thrones or whatever. Its plausible that friends follow the same channels.


Please stop treating me as if I'm incapable of the most trivial level of problem solving as it pertains to my own child's behavior. It's insulting. Not only does she have tons of freedom to do activities alone, I specifically listed some screen related ones that do not count against "screen time" because they involve an activity like crafts or dancing or are educational.


I am not. I do not believe myself competent to solve the parenting problems of a stranger on the internet. Rather, I am trying to bring more details of the anecdote you shared into the discussion.


No, you were implying that I didn't provide you enough information to convince you personally that my daughter was actually exhibiting addictive behaviors.

Watching YouTube videos is fine. Seeking solitude is fine. What defines addiction is not what your behavior is, it's whether or not the behavior is disrupting your life. So remarking that it sounds like she just wants to seek some solitude is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if she was "just" seeking some solitude or "just" using some drugs or "just" gambling or "just" shopping. It only matters whether those behaviors are disrupting her life. And I've made it clear that was the case by using language that includes the word addiction.


You haven't posted a single comment that makes me believe you've thought about why these things are happening rather than that they are happening.

To explain why the "why" is so important... I know someone that does amphetamine about twice a day. They have real trouble if they go too long without taking any. When their supply starts to get low they will drop anything on their calendar to make sure they don't run out. They also have a prescription for adderall, which their doctor can only fill a month at a time, and when they miss a dose their diagnosis comes roaring back in and their intellectual performance collapses.

Alternatively... I assume you're at least relatively technical. When was the last time you fixed a bug without first trying to find a root cause for it? Even if you didn't find one, fixing a bug by patching over the symptoms, without ever figuring out why it was happening?

Anyway, for all that "she's clearly addicted" and "she has panic attacks if she doesn't watch enough youtube", you haven't posted a single mention of your daughter's thoughts or motives or reasons. You talk about her like she has no agency whatsoever. Mandatory minimum daily family time that just happens to be a nice round number of minutes, "it doesn't matter what the explanation is", comparing a desire for solitude to drugs, etc. I'm going to be completely honest, you haven't done a good job convincing me that her behaviors are even maladaptive.

What videos does she watch, why does she choose those videos, how does she choose them, and why did she decide on that method? Why does she think she chooses those videos? Can she explain her process for choosing those videos? Why does she think she enjoys those videos? How much youtube does she think she needs to be watching, how did she choose that amount, and why did she choose that amount that way? What would happen if she didn't watch enough youtube? Why does she dislike that outcome? Why does she think she dislikes that outcome? Are there any videos that're more important than others? Why does she think they're more important? Why does she value youtube over family time? Why does she think she values youtube over family time?


Slippery slope! We're locked into this segmentation as well. There's no end to the rule making.

Our current position (which changes it seems every few weeks) is:

Rubbish stuff - 10 minutes per day - most youtube videos, especially vloggers in baseball caps doing Minecraft

TV - 20 minutes per day (exception because....as parents we both used to watch a fair bit of TV after school)

Worthy stuff - up to an hour a day - Nature documentaries - TED talks - youtube to research interesting things (currently Minecraft but only redstone)

I wouldn't wish enforcing this sort of regime on anyone.


I'd suggest moving the TED talks to the rubbish category. Seems safer and easier than sifting through the pile of TED talks to find the few good ones.


As I see it the issues arise less from some arbitrary level of screen time and more a lack of mobility and real live social time. With those at least you can set minimum quotas. That said, I try to work in screenlessness among sedentary activities like reading.

It's so all-encompassing, as you suggest, that I think I spend the majority of my time in front of a screen. What bothers me about it, and my work, is lethargy and isolation. So I take up some gym time. Sports would be a winner. Among friends there's always the low-fi boardgame craze. I'm not sure if it's enough.

Even with creative endeavors (say, writing, art, music) this day and age you'll find yourself (usually) reliant on technology for some part of the process.

I see a lot of concern about kids here. We were kids, growing up with screens: ultimately they're just bored and want stimulation.


> I find the article presenting "screen time" as if it's a single thing highly problematic.

While the pattern in research may be confusing, I don't know why the usage in the article—which is basically explaining research which suggests that this frequently studied question is almost certainly a nothingburger—is troubling.


I often have a similar thought when reading negative things about "screen time". If I'm going to read a book, it's probably going to be on my computer. That's also where I'd listen to music or watch youtube, though. I'm not sure if it should all just be called screen time.


The number of people for which screen time primarily means reading ebooks is vanishingly small. Screen time is just a shortcut way of talking about watching mindless YouTube/tv, social media, and gaming.


Completely agree. I've had a session where I was attempting to teach programming to my son cut short because it was considered screen time. That's obviously a very different activity than crushing candy.


Wasn't there some research done several years ago suggesting that simply the act of looking at a rapidly-flashing computer or TV screen has an effect on the brain, regardless of what's on the screen?


Computers and other devices with screens are massive double edged sword for kids growing up, it's a huge worry as a parent.

On the one hand, you can learn a huge amount of stuff just sitting there at home reading and following links. There are kids who've learned HFT level c++ sitting with a computer. (I worked with one). You can also learn a lot about just about anything else.

On the other hand, the same device can swallow your whole future via gamification. Social media and game designers have figured out how to make things so addictive kids get angry if you take it away from them. And you can't not have any online presence at all as a teenager, it's part of life now.

Hopefully I'll be able to navigate a happy medium.


The real issue behind this, like often, is that what is bad for the children is actually also very bad for the parents, but they think they can get away with their particular dose: cigarette, alcohol, sleep deprivation, bad eating habits, not enough exercice, toxic env, etc.

It's the same with screens: it takes a toll on everybody, no matter the age.

It's very easy to verify: go on a screen diet, but be very active during it. Don't sleep more, don't eat better, don't try to be less stressed. Just remove as much screen as you can. You may first notice a withdraw period, depending on your screen consumption. Passed that, your energy goes up, you eat better, your social life improves, your ability to focus as well, and you are actually more efficient for tasks that can't be shortcuted using screen-based tools.

Now as a computer scientist, I keep using screen hours and hours every day, knowing that. That's the whole problem: knowing the cause is not enough to solve an issue. It's even harder since screens are at the center of a lot of work and fun related activities of our modern lifes. I even had to buy a dumb watch to avoid looking at my phone to get the time.

Of course, if you don't solve the issue for you, kids will see that you give them advices you are not following yourself. And I distinctly remember as a child that as soon as I noticed this about an adult, I lost respect for what they tried to teach me at the moment. Being young != being stupid.


Where is your non-opinion-based, hard evidence that screen-time is "the same" as these bad things: cigarettes, alcohol, sleep deprivation, etc. Those things can be MASSIVELY bad for you, as we all know, however there is simply NOT the evidence base to support that claim for screen time.

I understand it's a newer phenomenon than those other negative influences, thus hard to know as of yet. Still, before you spout off very long pseudo-scientific opinions: provide data and evidence.


I can tell from experience that a kid or adult having too much "screen time" is annoying drag to people around right now.

It is not just about whether kid will be 0.5% more aggressive 10 years after. It is that he or she treats others (familly, siblings) badly now. It is also that such person is visibly loosing abilities like communication, patience, dealing with IRL setbacks, willingNess to do homework etc and parents have to intervene.

When these direct issues don't happen, parents care less. Waiting for study that confirms that some other kids are impatient jerks (or are not) after 3 hours of play is meaningless, because you a.) you are raising this one b.) they don't fund large scale studies over details like that.


> It is that he or she treats others (familly, siblings) badly now

Maybe his/her family treated him/her badly, and they don't even realize it. Maybe that kid will be happier without his/her family. Nothing wrong with that as far as I know. Maybe the kid doesn't want to do homework, because homework is an aberration of our modern society? Just my opinion.


I will put the abused kid aside and will assume non-abusive family. I will also put aside a kid that is about to go to foster care or something.

First, the kid is not and will not be without family. The kid is living inside a family. In the long term, the kid is supposed to be able to have family of their own. That requires both ability to communicate when they treat you bad without knowing it and ability to not treat other people badly. Long term functional relationships are not possible if you solve problems by hiding. That includes both spousal and work relationships.

I don't know why you went toward a kid that is without family. Because I was talking about kid that is impatient, reacts to IRL setbacks with temper tantrums or yelling or accusing people or picking on them or otherwise jerk behavior.

Your examples are like exactly attitudes that parent don't want the kids to get. Including the idea that historical kids rich enough to not have to work significant part of day would not be expected to learn a lot. There were periods like that, when middle class was strong and secure, but not calling it a norm where opposite is aberration is absurd.


> In the long term, the kid is supposed to be able to have family of their own

Or not. Who said everyone want to have a kid?

> I was talking about kid that is impatient, reacts to IRL setbacks with temper tantrums or yelling or accusing people or picking on them or otherwise jerk behavior.

So? that's not an illegal behavior as far as I know.

Im more open minded than you about what should be a family, I don't see long-term relationships that much important, and I believe in a society where everyone can have the life they want. If they prefer short term relationships, I don't see this as a problem, but a personality trait.


Hi Whomping, even in the case of cigarettes, alcohol and sleep deprivation, it takes a long time before they manifest as cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and shortened life expectancy. I don't think we can afford to be careless around devices that suddenly have taken over a majority of our collective attention span.

There are anecdotal evidence that links intelligence to physical activity, and screen time becomes excessive when they result in not enough.

In addition, some dental schools are reporting loss of dexterity in students. These activities rely on fine motor movements that requires years to hone.


My strategy is to be a screen addicted zombie to the point that my children will hate phones so much they run away from them. Seems to be working so far.


> It's the same with screens: it takes a toll on everybody, no matter the age.

The article says the opposite!!


Yes, and I disagree with the article.

Studies from 30 years ago screamed about health and TV, corelating bad eating and sleeping patterns with screen time. Suddenly one article says that it's not true for new techs.

I'm really not convinced. Just because you are less passive in front of a smartphone or a laptop doesn't negate the screen effect.


I'm increasingly convinced the worst health effects of tech are mostly about sleep, with any secondary effects being negligible by comparison.

I'd challenge anyone who thinks they "just can't" sleep on a normal schedule to drop all light-emitting devices and all artificial lighting aside from a couple candles, a bit after sunset in the Winter, or at sunset in the Summer. See if you still can't, or if you just don't want to. Not that I blame individuals for it, as it's really damn hard to stay away from all this hyper-engaging stuff at night. I haven't been able to. But trying that for a couple weeks gave me some serious insight into the why of my lifetime of screwed-up sleep. It's incredibly bright nighttime lighting (try the candle thing and see if you aren't surprised at how obnoxiously and unnecessarily bright even a single 60w bulb is after) and screen-based media (TV on up) to blame, entirely.

Turns out if you light your house up like it's daytime, then put 1,000,000x the top-quality entertainment an emperor of yesteryear could hope to command on a given night right at your fingertips, it's very hard to sleep. Go figure. But that's what's overwhelmingly the norm now for most people's evenings.


Honestly, I think I'd rather take <X> years off the end of my life than cut out my favorite activities from the only hours of the day that are really mine to allocate. It's time I'm losing either way, and sacrificing those hours on the altar of better sleep now, when I'm the youngest I'll ever be, doesn't appeal to me at all.

Basically, any suggestion to improve sleep by boring myself to death for 6 hours is a non-starter, and the holier-than-thou attitude of people on the internet who do so is starting to annoy me.


> Basically, any suggestion to improve sleep by boring myself to death for 6 hours is a non-starter, and the holier-than-thou attitude of people on the internet who do so is starting to annoy me.

Sure, but the flip side is you get a whole lot of "I just can't sleep a normal number of hours at a normal time, I guess I'm just built differently" and... well, no, probably not. I mean maybe. But probably not. You just like Netflix or late-night hacking or video games or whatever, too much to get a healthy amount of sleep. So does everyone else, to varying degrees.

And it's less a trade against end-of-life years as a trade against your ability to remember what you did or learned today tomorrow, and much shorter term mental and physical health issues (harder time with weight and blood pressure, generally lower energy and happiness, and so on). Though yeah, go for it. Most of the rest of us do, too, just not because sleep is some really hard thing that people are bad at and ordinary daytime schedules are unreasonable and demanding like many special Internet snowflakes claim (Nb not accusing you of making any such claim), but because our homes are, 24/7, more entertaining and brighter than a mid-tier amusement park.


Could you outline, specifically, what about the linked study was faulty that you disagree with?

I'm inclined to believe the data first, but if you find fault with it it should be surfaced.

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0506-1


I don't find it faulty, I'm saying that many studies said the contrary for TV for decades. I'm saying that many current time studies say that blue light and intense white ligh affect sleep. I'm saying that nowadays screens are debated as a huge problem for focus and attention.

And so I'll wait for 30 new studies saying screens are fine before starting to ignore them and my personnal experience.

If everytime you have a new study you trust it 100%, you will have to change diet every other week.


> Studies from 30 years ago screamed about health and TV, corelating bad eating and sleeping patterns with screen time.

Since you're a computer scientist I suppose I don't need to remind you that correlation != causation.

People who already have bad eating habits and sleeping patterns for other reasons, might also be the kind of people who enjoy spending more time in front of 80s/90s TV.


Studies never showed negative effects from TV.


it is possible that studies from 30 years ago are about televisions from 30 years ago.


That would assume it's something about a specific screen technology that have this effect, while my understanding is that it's about the concept beaming virtual information to your brain that causes the issue.


By that definition looking at anything causes some sort of issue, since they are all signals to your brain.


In the same way that a smooth weather is equal to what you get when you use air conditioning in your house.


I can't make heads or tails of your last statement. Is there some sort of magical connection to the rest of the world that we have that twisted by looking at these terrible liquid crystal displays? Sounds more sentimental than anything.


How can this be a “huge worry” when the fine article’s conclusion is as follows:

> The authors’ overall calculations did find a statistically significant negative association between technology use and well-being: more screen time is associated with lower well-being in the young people surveyed. But the effects are so small — explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being — as to be of little practical value.

Parents are wasting their time policing screen time. It’s a moral panic, not dissimilar to the moral panic when television came out and everyone thought it would make children stupid.


> It’s a moral panic, not dissimilar to the moral panic when television came out and everyone thought it would make children stupid.

Hmmm - are you sure we dodged that bullet? We now have a situation in which the major political parties literally cannot agree on FACTS.

I'd say whether TV makes you stupid or not is still up for debate...


1. Well-being is not the only thing worth caring about.

2. The person you are addressing is talking about gaming, not screen time.

3. I don't see how you can deny that most games are made to be addictive, that innumerable people - especially teenagers - become addicted, and that this has a detrimental effect on their becoming full, rounded and developed persons.


Well being seems like a pretty comprehensive definition of what parents should be concerned about. And I can deny the detrimental effects of gaming because studies have repeatedly debunked that idea.


That's interesting. Can you cite those studies?

I don't see, however, how a study would 'debunk' the possibility of gaming having detrimental effects. It might that show that on average the detrimental effects are negligible. But that does not show, in the least, that parents have nothing to worry about: clearly there are a sizable number of people for whom it is detrimental. Even if that is offset by benefits spread across the statistical population, it's still a problem for those particular people. And to be honest, I'm skeptical to concede even this much.

I think you have to possess a highly etiolated idea of what the human 'good' is to believe that playing video games for dozens of hours a week - which millions of people do - is not to its detriment. It might be very fun. In a way, it can even be social. Both those things are important. But it's hardly the best and fullest exercise of human creativity and imagination, intelligence and enlightment, expansion and self-development, love and desire, etc.


>But it's hardly the best and fullest exercise of human creativity and imagination, intelligence and enlightment, expansion and self-development, love and desire, etc

No, but it's probably better than watching TV or using social media which are likely the most common substitutes for games.


With the advent of games streaming, MMOs, and so on, all of these media are increasingly blurred together.


In any case you'd need longitudinal studies to properly evaluate any detrimental effects, given they are likely to be developmental in nature.

> I think you have to possess a highly etiolated idea of what the human 'good' is ...

Quite. Well being is contested & value-laden terrain. One would really need to read a paper & the theoretical background it emerges from before affirming the concept of well being its measures purport to operationalise.

Having said that, contemporary wealthy societies specialise in etiolated concepts of the good life, so this would hardly be an exception. A consumer-subject plugged-in more or less permanently to corporate product is the dream.


Only if bewitched by the phrase. It's hard enough to agree philosophically on what constitutes well being for humans, so to accept psychological measures of it without very careful examination is a leap of faith I wouldn't take.

> And I can deny the detrimental effects of gaming because studies have repeatedly debunked that idea.

Again, you're taking a lot on faith there based on a relatively small amount of research done during only a few years. Exposing young people during significant portions of their waking hours to computers/screens is one of the widest-scale social experiments ever undertaken. It could take generations to fully understand its implications.

I don't have a horse in this particular race and agree that many comments on the topic smack of moral panic. The most rational thing to do at this stage is reserve judgement. We don't know everything, and it's very early days yet. Having said that, if I were a parent, given the gravity of the responsibility, I'd be cautious at least.


>if I were a parent, given the gravity of the responsibility, I'd be cautious at least.

I'm curious as to what this entails, because

>Exposing young people during significant portions of their waking hours to computers/screens is one of the widest-scale social experiments ever undertaken.

This is false. A kid in the year 2000 has a radically different childhood from a kid in 1950 (who had the kind of childhood that people opposing screentime seem to want), who in turn has a radically different childhood from a kid in 1850 (who was probably working in a coal mine or sweeping chimneys or something).

There is no way to be cautiously conservative because there is no default to default to. In fact, I find it a remarkable coincidence that out of humanity's 100,000 year history, the perfect childhood just happens to be the one that today's old people had. Rest assured that in 1950, there were just as many old people bemoaning their youth that didn't know the value of hard work and spent all their time watching movies.


A good response & I'm definitely sympathetic to the notion that moral panics centre around departures from familiar (recent) norms.

I still hold to the claim that the screen use experiment is (1) particularly radical in that it involves substantially reducing children's exposure to the physical environment in which humans have evolved to develop (ie. that of human-scale 3D animate & inanimate things with which they physically interact). Note that 'radical' doesn't necessarily mean more harmful - just that it's hard to predict the developmental outcome as it's such a departure. And that it is (2) notably large scale due to the greater homogeneity of the change. A far larger proportion of kids are made subject to this particular experiment than in the past -- neither indigenous Australians not upper class English kids were chimney sweeps in the 19th C, but I'm sure both groups love their screens now.

Caution needn't mean adhering rigidly to an outdated template - that would be more like extreme conservatism or fundamentalism. It could just mean, er, caution! If I had kids, I'd consider how much screen time of different types they would be allowed, and how it might be balanced or blended with other activities. Like other parents, I would have no way of being certain about the answer most likely to lead to flourishing, I'd just have to make my best guess. I'm pretty sure for me that guess wouldn't be 'pass the child-training buck to Facebook & Google'. They take 'training' far too literally for comfort.

[Edit: My 'caution' would particularly extend to alarms &/or reassurances coming from studies such as this. For a number of reasons, it's a field I don't find very convincing ]


It is no harmful effect in families without problems. Meaning, parents in those studies observe kids and intervene when there is problem. Which makes kid ok, but also makes parent more resentful toward games and screen time.

If parent had to spend a lot of time arguing with kid and removing device etc after seeing kid behaving in worst ways, the parent will talk about bad effects of gaming without there being actual long term impact on kid. Because it took additional effort to counteract it.

Also, studies are about whether kids become more aggressive in long term. Parental annoyance of often about kids becoming harder to deal with, less capable to communicate or more jerk right now.


The resistance of other parents to data and logic is shocking to me, and one of the things I hate the most about being a parent.


You seem to place a lot of faith in uncontrolled social science studies.


> everyone thought it would make children stupid.

I don't think that's a great analogy. Today I think most parents worry about screen time quantity and not necessarily quality. Using a phone or tablet is often replacing other activities like sports, music, and just general physical play.


Also worth noting that they cited wearing glasses as a more significant factor. Worrying about screen time is less warranted than worrying about whether or not your kid wears glasses.


As a parent I want my daughter to have a wide variety of experiences. So if she spends all her time on any one activity I am going to encourage her to swap it around and do something else. If she spent all her time playing guitar I would probably take her guitar off her and tell her to read a book.. if she spent all her time reading a book I would take it off her and tell her to go outside.. If she was outside all the time I would tell her to come in and play a computer game..

It just so happens that what she wants to do all the time is play computer games, so that is the thing I have to keep steering her away from. I'm not convinced it is the screen itself that is harmful, but it is definitely the thing that stops her from wanting to do anything else.


This definitely sounds like a recipe for never-ending conflict.


From the tone of your comment it sounds like you think conflict is bad.

As a bit of a sidebar:

It's the parent's job to teach a child how to live a healthy lifestyle as an adult.

It's impossible to live a healthy lifestyle while doing only one activity, because there are many things that need doing around your house, or in your life, as an adult that most people won't have someone doing for them.

A parent's goals will conflict with a child's goals - the child lacks the wisdom the adult has gained over their lifetime, and as a result doesn't understand what they need to work on to become a functioning adult. At the same time, the child should challenge the adult's authority frequently - in order to discover the boundaries of their behavior. This has the additional benefit of giving the adult a lens through which to evaluate their own behavior.

I've learned more about myself and tempering my behavior from interacting with my daughter in the last 2 years than I had in the ten years before she was born. I hope that as a result, I'm a better parent now than I would have been ten or even two years ago.

On topic:

I agree with the GP - too much of any one activity is no good. Everyone needs to learn that there's a time and a place for each activity, and that there are many things important to keep us happy and healthy.


Thanks. That's very well put.

Parenting can be real tough when your goals conflict. It's a real help to bear in mind that that is a normal part of the process.


Do you have kids?


As if having kids somehow qualifies someone to magically be able to comment on parenting


Before I had kids I knew exactly how to be the perfect parent. That all changed once I became a dad.


My point is that both parents and non-parents don't know. There is no established standard.


"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is."


That sounds like it would prevent deep work and make it difficult to get good at anything.


What child under 15 needs to worry about getting good at anything instead of trying as much as they can to see where their interests are?


A good portion of HN is people that got good at things before they were 15 and now lead comfortable lives thanks to that. Early specialization has its merits, unfortunately,


I think getting good at getting good at things is also good to do at that age. I'm in favour of encouraging kids to study broadly, but I've also ready very compelling accounts of where encouraging a kid's narrow interests got the child to learn ancillary things much more quickly (though TBF, that child was deeply on the spectrum and perhaps not a typical example)


She's 8.


You can sit on the computer all day and experience a wide variety of things. And you can be outside for a day and not experience much new at all.


You can be outside all day and experience a wide variety of things. And you can sit on the computer for a day and not experience much new at all.


Don't sit on your computer. It's fragile.


Until they start embedding computers into chairs


Less likely to mess up your vision if you go outside.


UV radiation from sunlight is terrible for your vision.


One of the most strongly supported hypothesis for why everyone is suddenly near-sighted is a lack of natural light.


Holy shit. I was literally just having a conversation with my spouse yesterday about why so many children wear glasses. I was convinced it was a 'back in my day' syndrome popping up again.

Do you have any citations? Because it genuinely seems like more kids wear glasses than they used to.


Lots of data out there. Myopia is pretty rare in hunter-gatherer populations, but rates ncrease rapidly as the same population modernizes. Example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1956268/?page=1



> And you can't not have any online presence at all as a teenager, it's part of life now.

Not all teenagers feel like this. My fourteen-year-old's "online presence" mostly consists of using google docs to write stories with her friends. I know, it's anecdotal at best, but at least in my house the kids don't feel a need to be on social media.


I think this depends greatly on the social group your teenager is in. A bunch of girls that write fanfics together are going to have very different social dynamics than a bunch of boys talking about 9gag (or whatever meme site 14 year-old boys like these days. Might just be Youtube actually).


I’m not disputing that gamification is a problem, but kids have been getting angry at parents for taking their toys away since the dawn of time.


So it is with books.

If a kid is deeply engaged with an activity, suddenly terminating it for arbitrary reason is a huge sign of disrespect from parents. Kids get as angry about this as adults, it's just that adults are trained to repress the anger. Consider: if you, as an adult, were immersed in a book or in a team sport, and I came up and ordered you to stop what you're doing right now and go do something else - wouldn't you feel at least a bit angry?


Yep. We have started having our toddler press the start button on a timer when we need to transition to something else, primarily bed time routine. She presses the start button, goes back to playing, and then when the timer goes off she presses the stop button and is much more inclined to get through the transition without protesting.

Really I think a lot of the “my kid got mad because X” comes down to setting proper expectations. Whenever we set expectations with her, and especially when she gets to participate in the setting, things go so much more smoothly. Not to say we’re perfect, far from it, but the contrast is striking.


Works without a timer too: "Bed after you did X for three more times" or "read 5 more pages". Just prepare them mentally that something is going to happen soon.


The timer is a smart idea. I'm stealing that.


I stole it from someone else :) they actually use Alexa and have the kid say “Alexa set a timer for 5 minutes”. Works for a five year old, not so much for a two year old.


My wife and I don't allow much screen time, but for our toddler, with a lot of things...

My wife is inclined to give "bonus minutes". I'm inclined to give warnings, as I've found the effect the same. My wife will come out and say "It's been ten minutes, we're moving on to X" and toddler will struggle so she'll say "two bonus minutes". I'll remind him after eight minutes that "he's got two minutes left". He'll ask for bonus minutes, but when I say no there isn't much of a struggle.


The nice thing about a timer is that it moves control away from you, even though you ultimately decide when to start the timer and how long it lasts. Seems like they’re less likely to argue with something that they initiated.


Do you have kids? My toddler has all kinds of toys that he loves. A short time ago I thought I would try handing him an age appropriate, non-adware, educational iPhone game. The intensity of craving for “just one more minute” was unlike anything I have seen before or since. It’s on a whole different level.

Although I know I’m going to need to teach him how to live in our screen-filled world, I’m not sure when I’m going to feel like he’s mature enough to face the intensely addictive properties of the thing. Frankly, my personal experience is that I’m not ready to appropriately handle their addictive properties for myself even now, so...


An anecdote from the flip side, our three kids have had very extensive access to screens since they’ve been able to use them, none of them have bad screen habits. They all happily put them down to play with anything else that seems interesting.

Our working theory is that by not making screen time precious, we’ve made screens just another toy/tool/way to accomplish something, rather than something to be sought out for their own sake.


I have two kids, a toddler and a newborn. The toddler gets mad when we take her away from anything she’s doing, for whatever reason. We haven’t really given her interactive iPad games yet because the one time we tried she was completely uninterested.


I have no experience with this, but there are apps you can get which turn the screen from full colour to greytone. apparently it really cuts out the addictive quality for a lot of people.


The article says that after data mining a large dataset for correlations, the authors could only explain 0.4% of the variation in well-being by screen time. Is there really that much to worry about?


Yes, well-being is only measured in the short term. How many people do you know who will readily admit they spent too much time looking at a screen when younger?


Well, I owe my entire career (as I imagine most people here do) to spending obsessive amounts of time on computers in my teens. So while it was "a lot", I have a hard time taking seriously any claim that it was "too much".


Only because its a lucrative career. If soft engineering paid 30k a year you would not feel the same way.


Well... yeah? If I'd spent my teens obsessively reading romance novels instead of learning how to build software, then I would consider that 'too much' time because the end result is useless (excepting the very few people who become rich by writing bodice-rippers).


I doubt only because of that. It’s quite easy to end up in an alternate reality where you get $30k/year for doing boring manual work, or indeed anyway sitting behind a screen all day.


Me too. But we all knew kids who weren't learning to code, right?


Yep, and that's why my kids will get unlimited access to computers for anything creative or productive, somewhat limited access to games, and strictly limited access to video streaming and social media.


That is begging the question (I don't habitually ask them, anyway).

I believe all of the source studies are multi-year at least.


I've got four kids and don't mind them enjoying their ipads, but it does worry me a little that the ipad is always the number one for them. Playing outside, creating things, sports, other kids are all nice, but if they can choose, they will choose the ipad.


I have a more specific concern which is really just "the iPad" and related appliance-type devices.

My plan for my kids when they're old enough is they'll get Linux laptops to play with, and the option to use Windows if they can figure out how to install it for games.

Because what I want to encourage is understanding how the machine works, that it is a machine and that it can be manipulated, since my most important formative memories when I was young was that my dad was writing his own software to run his business and that core message was something me and my brothers spent a lot of time emulating as play.


The thing I don't like about modern screens is that you won't get a chance to spend hours futzing around with AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to get your system just right, or play with IRQ jumpers and settings. I'm actively looking for plan Bs in the form of Raspberry Pis or similar kinds of gear.


Oh man, how many memories I have of hours of fiddling "I just need 128 more bytes of HiMem [or whatever category] so I can play this game..."


Yes! I had exactly this experience when I so desperately wanted to play wing commander. Now I’m a programmer


You do get to look at dev tools on the browser. HTML/CSS/js is a pretty good introduction to mucking about with things, and reasonably meaty.

Plus changes are immediately visible, kids patience being what it is.


A friend of mine bought their kids old Mac's and the kids absolutely love it, and are learning about their computer as well.


Check out the Kano computing kit, which is built around the Pi.

You could also probably stick them in DOSBOX.


oh man, all the hours I spent futzing with xorg.conf as a kid. or trying to get wifi on my laptop working using ndiswrapper. kids these days will never know the pain (or eventual satisfaction)


I don't think you need to worry too much. As has been said in this thread, electronic devices and the software running on them are designed to be addictive. Young children lack the self-control to limit or stay away from things they're addicted to.

You'll be doing just fine if you lay down some boundaries for them limiting the time they spend on any one activity. Bonus points if you take part in those activities with them. :)


> learned HFT level c++

Maybe another kid will sit down and learn to fluently speak Latin, but how will it help him/her to live in the modern world where Latin isn't used anymore?

Edit : as I see a downvote, I may further explain what I meant. We should not stop kids to learn what they want, but we should make sure that we don't endanger their futures by letting them learn only what they want. Learning "HFT level c++" is maybe interesting, but it would be a crime to let a kid only learn that for 10 years, and then let him/her figure out that their will be no job for him/her because ML and AI replaced all old programming models, when it is too late and he/she needs an income to actually survive (I'm assuming here people will still have to work to survive in the future)


I have a 9 and 6 year old (both boys). It's a pretty major issue in our household trying to balance screen-time with the kids and staying on the same page with my wife. I'm more flexible than she is but she's done more research on the topic than I have so I try to defer to her. However, i'm pretty hard-headed sometimes.

We just try to limit duration and also use it as a reward system. Our oldest will get himself out of bed and 100% ready for school ( shoes/socks, brush teeth the whole 9 yards) in order to get 20min screen-time before school. I wish he didn't get any before school but I agreed to the preconditions and i always tell him "a deal's a deal".

Our younger son will self-regulate to a point, like he gets bored and will play in his room or throw me a lightsaber and fight. However, he's really really into watching youtube videos of other people playing games with the commentary. He can't get enough of roblox for example so after an hour or so we make him go do something else and take a break.

Both kids are very social and physically active so it doesn't bother me very much. Plus, there are days when, as a parent, you just have nothing left and kids in front of a screen give you a few min. to lick your wounds and recover.


My trouble is that my two daughters (10 and 8) go to a school where iPads are used for a significant part of their school work, even when they're at school. They don't get paper assignments or worksheets anymore, it's all assigned over a program called Schoology and they're expected to work and submit it all through the iPad. Then when they come home after school, their homework is also done on the iPad. Then once they're done all their homework and have already spent countless hours that day on tablets doing their work, they want downtime to relax and play and often games on the iPad is a big part of that.

I agree as a parent we have a big role to play in being very aware of practicing what we preach. Obviously that goes with more than just screen time. I've caught myself many times saying that my child cannot go on tablets right now, meanwhile I grab my phone to check emails or read the news...

I don't know what the perfect answer is but I think moderation is needed much more. Especially considering the active effort to make games/apps as addictive to us as possible. I wish the school would adapt a screen-free learning day system where, maybe a couple days each week, all work is done without the need for iPads.


Funny anecdote from my son: His favorite time at a school is going to the computer lab. I asked him about the iPads in the classroom and he said "Those are for work".


Same story at my home. Research in this area is widespread. We have stopped giving screen time before school and it has improved the attention span thru our the day(may be there is some impact on how you start the day or may be just in my case).

Screen times are in the chunks of 20 mins, max 3 times a day. Alexa/Google have been helpful in setting up timers so no argument at the end whether it was full 20 min or not :-)

After returning from school. Evening, after completing school/activity work. After dinner.

Any day, not more than 60 mins(baring occasional movie time holidays/some weekends).

But due to this, I am not able to introduce them to "programming" because you tube and video games are taking up all the quotas and I am sure once programming is introduced 20 min window will not work.


Whenever I have kids at my home I just put them in front of an ipad and a stupid show. Does the trick.


Didn't you read the study that was against useing screen time as reward/punishment? That's exactly what makes them wanting screen more...

Source - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190109114811.h...


"Didn't you read X that says parenting decision Y is bad?"

^^ Story of being a parent, right there.


Well, sure. It does not mean you should not listen to studies and just say - fuck it. Do what you think is best for your children and limiting screen time sure makes a lot of sense.


Did the people in this thread even read the article? It suggests that the effect of eating potatoes or wearing glasses on childhood well-being is greater than the effect of screen time.


That's what the article says, but the definition of "well-being", and the methods, are not explained. Even if the results of this meta-study are reliable, that doesn't mean they rule out all possible negative effects of screen time.


The point is that there is little to no evidence that screen time is bad (or good), just a lot of speculation. The argument against screen time is essentially the same as the one used against GMO foods: "it's new, so it's probably bad." Obviously that's not a strong argument but people in these comments seem to be accepting it without reflection.


I think op means, there's just so much information and studies, god knows how many are reproducible, and the constant pressure that you aren't doing enough being a parent :).


Haha yes, more on the "Everything you do as a parent is wrong" end of the spectrum.


I can't help but roll eyes at screen time as the newest neo-puritian trend. Mainly because it is so damn meaningless without the /what/. It is like trying to lump pulp novels, newspapers, comic books, hard core porn and textbooks together but even worse.

I worry far more about the cyclic "must find new sin and moral panics" trend continuing. I am frankly wondering if it is a biological derangement of life stage akin to impulsiveness of teenagers or reactionary nostalgia of elders.


I partly agree with this, but also find myself addicted to my phone and worried that it's not great for my mental health. It's true that you can set your watch to collective freakouts over change. It's also true that some new things have caused major social problems and, in hindsight, we didn't panic enough when those changes were starting to become widespread. It's a lot like obesity. Sure, we shouldn't freak out about the food system, people can still make healthy choices, but the obesity epidemic is real and we need to think it through.


Personally I suspect a lot of phone addiction is that reality is full of boring things of little importance that we are bound to from above. Just like anyone would prefer doing something to sitting in a dark cave alone. (Granted skinner boxing is an issue that affects some more than others.)

What is considered functional is shaped by the environment and successes - including norms. Greek Heroes have a different name now in most cases - psychopaths. Oedipus has a funny case of major values dissonance.

Now people would consider him guiltless for marrying his mother because he didn't know and may have been enslaved by destiny but consider him guilty for killing his father over road rage essentially but not because he was his father. No shit one's actions of killing random people for petty reasons will come back to bite them! It is Shakespeare in the bush of interpretations essentially.


>I suspect a lot of phone addiction is that reality is full of boring things of little importance that we are bound to from above

That's certainly a good excuse to start some low-effort dopamine releasing habit, but an issue is that we're driven to them even when the reality around us is interesting, and it prevents us from engaging in that reality or developing an interest in it which works against us.

I like to bring up a sense of longterm/after-the-fact fulfillment in these discussions as a gauge of how to spend your time now. I think it's a more or less uncontroversial way to go about life. It's easy to say "well, any time spent having fun is not time wasted" but that fails when it comes to maximizing fulfillment and minimizing regret.

Playing Fortnite on my phone might give me the biggest dopamine release right now and be instantly fulfilling compared to meeting the person next to me sitting at the beach or going for a swim in the crystal clear water. To link it back to something you said, it's a habit I would've developed under more boring scenarios.

But in weeks, months, or years, I know that seizing the opportunity of the beach or meeting someone would be vastly more fulfilling than spending that time on the screen.

My fellow ex-gamer friends have similar lamentations: "I wish I'd spent that time doing anything else than playing all those games." I'd guarantee almost everyone here looks at their time refreshing Instagram/FB/Reddit and maybe even HN in a similar light.

In these comments people always like to point out the good things about screens, like how they learned to program that way. But I think "screen time" in these discussions is a stand-in for the easy way out, and things with screens are the most effective instant escape that humans have ever had. To point out that someone can spend 100% of their screen time doing something they won't regret is like pointing out a couch can actually be used to do tricep dips.

But consider, when I was teaching my friend's little brother Python (on a screen), he kept constantly pulling his smartphone out do something more interesting (in the short term) and was slapping his own wrist for having that habit and genuinely interested in learning to program. Something that is surely more fulfilling in a year than knowing what's going on in social media.


> Greek Heroes have a different name now in most cases - psychopaths. Oedipus has a funny case of major values dissonance.

Oedipus seems like he was the prototype for the modern sitcom - nothing but bad luck and misunderstandings.


The eye strain problem is very real, but what I don’t understand is whether switching from screen to a book helps - it’s at the same distance so should give the same eye strain!

No one would come out and say “limit your kids’ book time to max 20minutes”.


I have serious doubts about eye strain being a long term issue especially since current preventative methods for it are literally 'stare at something far away for 20 seconds once an hour.' I mean people have been working full-time jobs staring at a monitor for decades now, and the alarm bells haven't been ringing.

To your last point, you can get eyestrain from reading for too long(ask any reader!)


Talking to eye doctors now, they are saying it’s an near-sightedness epidemic in kids. This is not a large sample of experts but both in person and from the news. One problem I think is that they hold the screens really close, and they dont take breaks to stare at infinity often enough (Max 25 min straight for children was the instruction I was given). There was also something with the eyes of small kids being much worse affected than adults. My ophthalmologist told me there was now 10 kids in each class that need glasses in first grade, up from just 1-2 before screens. That to me sounded pretty bad.


Depends on the class sizes - I would expect variation in there. With 25-30 in the 90s I recall there being at least 4-5 in a class commonly. Without context that doesn't say much other than it stood out.

That isn't reliable - statistical literacy and especially /native/ staristical literacy is shockingly rare and this is exploited constantly by people with agendas. People think crime is on the rise when it is at historic lows and 1st World Pollution in the toxin sense is getting worse when it has gotten better in many ways.

(The Environment is always a multifaceted thing. Is it better or worse for a vast desert to turn into a monoculture forest? Nonbiodegradability is a bad thing but it technically does sequester some carbon. Still air without lead in it is far better.)


My iPhone's screen time feature made me realize that the time spent on a device in and of itself is actually pointless without further context. When I started reading white papers on my daily commute, my screen time went up drastically yet that was a good thing.

When I became unhappy at work, I realized that also corresponded to a spike in screen time, generally in playing little free games. That's a problem, but increased screen time is only a symptom.


I have my screen time feature set to only warn me about certain apps. For example I have an hour limit of social media + reddit combined. It doesn't matter how much I text, call, or email, however it will let me know once I've hit that hour for the particular apps.

It gives it the context you say is missing, you should give it a shot!


My android one is a little better. It tells me my screen time, and a breakdown of what app I had open and for how long. Unfortunately a large swathe of that is "chrome", but there is definitely info to be gleaned from it.

It's 12:30 and I've unlocked my phone 40 times, opened chrome 21 times, and reddit 29 times...


That's pretty much what the iPhone version does too: total screen time broken down by app, with the addition of app groupings like "Reading and Reference", "Productivity" and "Creativity". It allows you to set limits on a per app, or per category, basis.

It also shows total pickups, pickups per hour, busy times, etc. and the same for notifications.

Super useful


I turned ScreenTime off. I do not need this information collected and potentially leaked. I turn off as much as I possibly can, including the Health stuff. I want the phone acting as dumb as possible and collecting, monitoring and analyzing (let alone transmitting) as little as possible. Alas, it is still a smartphone so...


Do you have an app that does that or are you using a Pixel device? (I think this feature was restricted to Pixels only)


https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.and... ?

It's part of Android 9, I believe. (I have a Nokia 7 Plus)



If you are looking for an app, you could give "RealizD" a try.


Ah I've got a pixel, yes.


Yes, it's dangerous! Since it takes away other types of sensorial experiences from young kids..it's only touch on a glass surface..

I've noticed with our young one, that he switches from one video to the next very quickly and seems to have hard time sticking to one video for too long.. as a lesser of two evils, tried putting on the TV and then turning it off after certain time (beaming the content via Chrome and controlling the timing that way)

Are their time rationing apps/systems for iOS devices? Setup timer for 30 minutes and then the device shuts off or locks? I see some paid options when searching online but don't know how well they work and if anyone here has experience with them?


>It's only touch on a glass surface..

That’s something I’ve considered too. Before- it was incompatible connectors, things that probably didn’t work without drivers, disk fail, keyboard clack....

Now most things always works, it’s smooth glass everywhere you never have to even slightly stomp on something. It’s all about getting them to inject content now.

It’s like we had to grow our own poppies and mash it up to get a little high, and kids get straight purified drip SuperHerion drip now. At least we learned some farming skills.


Just don't install YouTube or YouTube Kids. If you give them only educational apps, they will have only educational play on the tablet. We don't give kids a banquet with candy and cake on it every day and let them choose what to eat from there. We give them a selection of healthy foods and allow them to choose from that selection. Curate.


iOS 12 has Screen Time built in which sounds like it could do what you want. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208982


Growing up I had pretty much everyone telling me to get off the computer and "go outside" or whatever. I now make a lot more money than all of those people (using screens) and still spend most of my time on my computer.

People have been complaining about screen time since there have been screens. Screens are where all of modern society happens. Keep them away from your kids at your/their own risk.


You, and most people on this site, also happen to have lived through what appears to be the golden age of the computer programmer.


Whatever will have the next golden age will come through a screen.


Just because something allows someone to make more money off of it doesn’t inherently make it good.


Well, if it counts for anything I'm also quite happy.


I find it terribly complicated. My 3yo doesn't watch any screen yet, but I have a dilemma. On one side, there's a huge world of cool visual and auditive content that can be exciting, stimulating and an amazing tool for learning and discovering the world. On the other side, I'm very aware of how absorbing and addictive is, and how difficult is to ration it. Anyway, I feel she's still too young. She doesn't ask for it yet, so why start? She's already very busy discovering the world by herself with all her senses.


My wife works with kids who get too much screen time, so I can say this. Not all screen time is the same. The key, key thing is - how involved is the parent?

I'd rather my kid watching useless bouncing balls with me on the couch next to him talking to him about it than watching something "educational" (ha) with me in the next room.

Our 2.5yo gets twenty minutes of Netflix a day (because he likes animals and I can't take him to the zoo every day). But either my wife or I (or usually both) sit on the couch with him and talk to him about what he's seeing.

Don't be scared of screen time. Be scared of screen time as a babysitter.


I'm a parent and my girls get time with Netflix/tablet/tv etc. We control the time and don't really have issues there (of course there are cries for "shows" sometimes, but we can put the remote out of their reach).

Anyways, I find the best thing is to pre-screen the content. For a week or so at Christmas my oldest daughter got really into "toy unboxing videos" on youtube. They are mindless, pile of crap videos with millions/billions of views. We set out to find better content and directed her to those. We settled on a character called "Blippi". It's still silly enough for her to stay engaged, but he does videos on garbage trucks and helicopters etc so we feel like there is some learning going on. As she ages, the content we'll direct her to will change. The moral here I guess is you have the power to control the time and content, so do it.


My daughter got an iPad at that age. We never really policed it, and she’s now a very athletic and well adjusted 6 year old. Children have a natural inclination for physical play. An iPad can be stimulating, but it’s not as engaging for a kid as it is for an adult.


That's interesting. I've heard it the other way. Young children are easily distracted so it's hard for them to get addicted to the screen. It's older kids that are susceptible to getting addicted. I wonder whether introducing the technology when they are younger helps remove the addictive allure of the technology or enhances it.


The biggest problem with "screen time" is that so much of it is designed to addict people. Data and algorithms are used to determine what will keep them watching.

Books and the like aren't really designed this way.

But that is the big difference. What this community should probably be doing, rather than lumping all "screen time" together, is working on ways to curate and present content in ways that doesn't have this problem.

I believe it is an extreme case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater to severely limit the use of anything with a screen, when what you really want to do is break the addictive cycle of the "bad stuff."


I have a 6yr old. This was his argument ( in Spanish ) when asked whether he preferred to go to an Amusement Park or sit all day and watch youtubers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RZNy6ARzZ4&feature=youtu.be

99% of the kids I know will ALWAYS opt to veg out and play games or watch Youtube. This was not the case when I was growing up in NYC with all the game-sets and cable TV.

So what are we doing about it?

1 - he is only limited to Netflix. 30min max per day

2 - Every other day, he can play 15-20 min of only a handful of games like Chess, Cut-the-rope, and Lego Adventures on the tablet.

3 - We've decided to move to Patagonia next month so that he will be able to run wild in nature whenever he gets 'bored'.

4 - We quickly realized that the best way to lead is by example, therefore mom and dad put away and don't use the phones at home while he is around. This too has help my severe addiction.

My instincts tell me that the LONGER he stay off devices, the better off he will be. It's like Crack to them. S.Jobs knew that himself, that's why he didn't allow his daughter to touch the stuff.


Steve Jobs was a pretty weird dude. Among other things, he thought eating the same thing for a week meant he wouldn't stink (he did). I don't know if he's the best example


If there's little evidence showing that the medium is affecting people positively or negatively, perhaps the key differentiator is content.

A medium is the vehicle for content, and content is dictated by the medium. However, the content you the parent or your tiny adult ingest is entirely of your own control. A parent should ensure their tiny adult is receiving that which will help them develop into healthy adults. Most people simply mimic the things they see and practices they observe, which has broad implications for the kind of content a tiny adult should ingest.

Consider this situation: there are only two shows left on the Earth: "Mister Rogers' Neighborhoood" and "Reno 911." Which show should your tiny adult watch to grow them into a healthy adult? The answer, obviously, is the former. The latter can be viewed later in life once the tiny adult has a more complete understanding of right and wrong.


I spent an enormous amount of time on my computer as a kid, and I credit that time with giving me the superpowers later in life that accelerated my career. I had a decade-long head start on many of my peers. So I am hugely biased that "hey, I turned out fine. No big deal".

However, seeing my own kids' behavior even when I heavily restrict their screen time makes me question that. When their time is up they wail and moan and yell in a way that goes well beyond the usual kind of complaining kids do. I tightly control the apps that my kids are allowed to use and limit their time (thanks to iOS screen time). In the times when I've taken away iPads as punishment for extended periods, my kids' moods have improved. The amount of arguing has gone down. Their behavior is better. It's inescapable that these things alter them in some way. This is without social media even!

I genuinely don't know what the right answer is. On one hand, they have this amazing machine that is a gateway to all sorts of learning. It's almost like we've stepped into the world of "Diamond Age". On the other hand, it makes them turn into borderline sociopaths, even when they use it for short periods of time. The addictive effect is real too, and that is also frightening. If given the choice between anything and iPad time, iPad time wins hands-down 100% of the time. The human race has entered a whole new unexplored territory.


Let’s be honest it was totally different for most of us.

Even older millennials here remember life before the internet.

If the internet existed at all for people here it was ICQ or MSN, some home town ISP, and grainy playboy pics someone uploaded to a fan site. Not what the internet resembles today.

I agree with you, my screen time strongly influenced me as a programmer and the try-it-see-what-happens logic I find many people lack.

I just don’t think it’s comparable to zoning out on Yahoo Kids for hours.


I mean I learned to program and all that but I also sat and played Starcraft/CS/etc for way too many hours. I think I received skills from gaming as well, and it didn't make me a violent/not well rounded/<insert negative here> adult.


Perhaps this is an indication of the types of software in use?

As kids, learning to use a computer meant working rather closer to the OS, and intrinsically learning diagnosis patterns and tooling.

A smartphone or tablet is not at all the same kind of beast, with most of the mechanics and internals being abstracted - a triumph of a more humanized design, to be sure, but also constraining the direct utility of 'knowing how to use electronic devices' in the same way as it used to.

Furthermore, the intentionally gamified and design-for-addiction principles many apps use is significantly more direct than most apps or games from that older period as well.


I have a similar origin storyy, however, I Ieel like I remember my Mom mentioning the same improvements when I was restricted from screen time, despite the fact that that time was spent reading RFCs or learning some component.


We created an App that helps strike a balance between screen time and physical activities. It's called healthy limit, currently available on the Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.healthylim...

The idea is to use a Fitbit to track a kids steps and sleep, and reward them with screen time for every step and every minute of sleep.

Parents decide the rules of exchange for steps and sleep to screen time.


I have worked in IT for 37+ years. That's way, way too much.


What makes you come to this conclusion?


This is an excellent read for data scientists, as it illustrates how easy it is to get possibly wrong conclussions from trying to find a particular correlation in data


I am concerned about my own screen time, especially if I also count listening to audio books and reading ebooks and Machine learning papers. Even when I go to the gym now, I usually listen to a podcast while working out. I don’t play computer games (except when my job was doing ‘game AI’ on Nintendo games) but between my personal research and working in an AI lab, I spend a large fraction of my awake time engaged with something digital.


I think we should also be asking this about adults. We know screens interfere with sleep. We know screen time is correlated with depression. We know the mere presence of smartphones lowers cognitive ability and concentration. It seems obvious screen time is bad for adults too, and the research shows we usually spend many/most waking hours in front of one.


Not to mention the lack of physical activity.


I wish we could breakdown "good screen time" and "bad screen time" ... or at least see if there are different types.


For me, screentime has worked really well. I don't have social media apps and notifications are on for critical apps i.e. Calendar, Slack, Journal entry (I achieved it with discipline).

Now the sad part is you can still access them on your browser and because of gamification, it is so easy to lose the track of time on those sites. I used to keep reading articles for hours even though I haven't finished a single task for the day.

What screentime offers me is a check which actually what I needed. It is like a teacher/friend who reminds me you are spending more time than supposed to in categories which is not important for you. At the moment, social media seems waste of time for me and so I set it up for a 5-minute limit. If I am reading important stuff on social media and it binges me the limit time. I think that check helps in reminding what is urgent and what is important and don't mind it as a problem as other people commented.


If you're concerned about this for yourself I highly recommend looking into NoSurf (https://nosurf.org/) to read about the effects on attention span and mindfulness caused by humanity's most powerful means of easy distraction, the net.


I don't know if that's your site, but the "Learn More" button dead center on the front page 404s.


Nah I wish it were my site because that bugs me too :) "Start here" up top works, though.


I bought an Android e-reader tablet (Boyue Likebook Mars) and it has been life changing. I suffer from the same problem since I use a computer almost 9-10 hours a day at work. Then I go home and use my laptop and my phone before I sleep. An e-reader has helped me cut down my screen usage by probably 2-3 hours a day.


So.. an e-reader display is not a screen then?


That's a weird area - with my Kindle paperwhite I don't even turn on the backlight at night - it's basically staring at a static image. It's also built so that you don't really have device attention issues, There's little in the way of digital distraction, your choice is to read a book, or read a book. I feel like it's basically the same as a book at that point.


I would argue that an ereader that simply displays ebooks is less of a "screen" than a smartphone.

But I read 90 books a year on an ereader, so perhaps I'm biased.


What does screen-ness even mean?


Dynamic vs. static. Less FPS. No sound. Little interactivity.


I think the trick is not to regulate total screen time, but to regulate long uninterrupted blocks of screen time.

The "social media loop" that haunts many adults is not really different from whatever cravings kids are going through, and in both cases it can be combated with scheduled activity breaks that involve getting up and doing a bit of housework or going outside for few minutes. It promotes better sleep habits while not really limiting the core activity.

I would definitely not recommend encouraging anyone to go from one sedentary activity(games, Youtube) to another(homework, coding etc.) directly - that's something that makes "screen time" a nebulous timesink.


I am having quite a few busy months, and in turn, having to spend a lot more time on screen. And I am starting to catch myself having some conscience issues with this. A part of my brain is automatically complaining that this isn't healthy and sustainable.

I catch myself getting anxious about my posture even though my back/neck doesn't hurt in the evening. And I think about my eyes a lot and how I don't want to 'damage' them even more.

Little things like this you know... it's the best self-concluded research out there.


I recommend following the work of Amy Orben, she's very critical of the wide conclusions drawn from weak data: https://twitter.com/OrbenAmy

And she's a researcher committed to good scientific practice.

Her tl;dr is that yeah, there are negative effects, but they're small and the data is messy. And screen time is a bad concept, because it lumps together very different things.


This is pretty much the conclusion of the article as well :

> Well-being was more strongly associated, either positively or negatively, with most of these other variables than with digital-technology use. In fact, regularly eating potatoes was almost as negatively associated with well-being as was technology use, and the negative association between wearing glasses and well-being was greater.


But what do kids do during winter when you really can't get out of the house that often? I didn't grow up in a region where winters are so severe that you can't get out of the house and play but I am raising kids who are in a region where winters are severe and I have no idea what to do other than letting them play inside with screens.


Books, board games, indoor sports?

How severe are the winters where you live? I've never been anywhere where you couldn't go out with proper clothing.


proper clothing is fine, but it gets dark in couple of hours after their school ends and by the time I get home which is around 6PM, so 5 out of 7 days a week just go by like that.

And I don't see much difference between books/ board games and screen time (except allowing them to browse youtube etc)


For me personally the difference between screen time and books or board games is the prolonged focus on one thing. When online, I tend to jump through articles, scroll through feeds and switch focus much more rapidbly than during offline activities.


I’d also say the problem with hypermedia is that the production values allow someone else’s vision to swamp out your own imagination and creativity. If you’re reading a static book, you have to visualize your own world. With digital works you can get the full sensory experience. You don’t need to use your creativity as much.

It’s as if all of the movies are using special effects drenched in CGI all of the time.


The time it takes to switch focus during offline activities is much higher. I can guarantee if it took you 5-10 minutes to switch websites, you'd be a lot more fixated on one thing at a time...

You can't alt+tab on real life activities very easily (generally).


I grew up in a cold winter area before the modern age of technology and we found plenty of ways to occupy our time. For one, we still spent a lot of time outside! I remember fondly many winter weekends and evenings as a kid building snowmen, sledding, ice skating, having snowball fights with neighbors, etc. As an adult we (myself included) tend to view snow and ice as an obstacle - something to be looked at but not interacted with. I most certainly did not feel that way as a teenager.

There are plenty of other non-screen indoor activities. Games, books, being involved cooking dinner and doing chores, homework, etc.


I think some screen time is ok, there are times when you need a break as a parent too.

At my house, we have a ton of craft supplies and my kids love doing crafts. It doesn't have to be expensive either. Old toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes, pipe cleaners, coloured paper, glue. All very cheap and very fun for a kid.


I have found that paper folding or crafts is a great way to keep kids busy, especially origami. Right now with my 6yo we've started folding multi-piece geometric shapes and modular/sliding pieces.


I grew up in Michigan, and my kids are growing up in Wisconsin. I got sent outside. Send them outside.


Books, board games, cooking together


I have kids age 5 and 8. cooking is a great idea. but I dont see much difference between screen time and board games and books unless they are watching youtube or things like twitch ...


What did they do ~20 years ago?


I limit my 5 year olds screen time to 20 minutes when she asks for screen time. She spends most of her time drawing or playing.

But if you think about it, the device screen time has really replaced the television of our youth. It is used more as a way to babysit our children so we do not have to engage with them.


tl;dr: We need more data and better data to draw reliable conclusions. This far the closest we can come is

"The authors’ overall calculations did find a statistically significant negative association between technology use and well-being: more screen time is associated with lower well-being in the young people surveyed. But the effects are so small — explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being — as to be of little practical value."


It is pretty clear that many of the comments here didn't read the article.


Maybe screen time isn't hurting well being in the short term but personally I'll still err on the side of caution. We have 0 data on the long term effects of screen time, which is what I'd be more concerned about anyway.


As a parent I try to focus on "constructive activity" rather than screen time / non-screen time. Which means really cultivating a love of accomplishment — which can be encouraged, but ultimately it comes from inside them.


TLDR; Screen time has very small negative impact on well being and does not warrant policy change. The survey was done from 3 datasets with ~355K data points.

Quote: The association between digital technology use and adolescent well-being is negative but small, explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being. These effects are too small to warrant policy change.


I spend most of my waking hours at my computer.

I do NOT consider it a problem that my kids spend a lot of time playing with computers (smartphone, tablet, laptop) too.


I hope all the parents who are severely restricting screen time have also cut potatoes out of their family’s diet.


The paper uses Specification Curve Analysis (SCA). I have never heard of SCA but it looks interesting.


This article does NOT answer "how much is too much?" question.


my! We're in 2018 and still talking about the screen rotting your brain?


Easy, when it starts hurting

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