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Is screen time good or bad? It’s not that simple (techcrunch.com)
61 points by mrkuchbhi 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

"Screen time" != "Screen time".

That's my main problem with all this "screen time is bad" stuff.

There's a huge difference between a kid spending 2 hours playing Flappy Bird and spending 2 hours playing with an educational app, or drawing/painting in an app, or watching tutorials on YouTube.

It's like saying "time at the park is bad for you" because some kids go to the park to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

Screen time isn't bad for kids. Parents not controlling what kids DO on the screens is bad for kids. It's all just another convenient thing for parents to point at and blame for their lazy parenting.

Moderate what your kids do, push them towards using screens and technology in educational and beneficial ways that stimulate their imagination and creativity, control the amount of time they spend sedentary, and teach them that like all things in life, balance and variety are important.

(Parent of 2 kids, who get unlimited access to TV, game consoles, and a tablet, and would much rather play Lego)

I'm an elementary educator, and the distinction I always try to make for parents is between "low effort, low reward" screen time and "high effort, high reward."

Mindlessly scrolling through YouTube is a low effort activity, which is why so many of us (myself included) do it more than we really ought to. Clearly spending some quality time learning a skill, coding, or engaging in some creative affair is clearly superior, even though they could both be characterized as "screen time."

The one thing I alert to them, though, is just how much firepower there is in tuning the experience so meticulously to encourage their children to spend an extra minute or two on these apps. And this, I tell them, is the real danger. Not so much the content, but it essentially is a tool that is rewarding their kid for not much intellectual effort at all.

When I wanted to not be bored as a kid, I had to put some effort into it: take out my toys, create a story line, put things away, etc. Most of the kids I teach today have no idea what that split-second of boredom really feels like: they just whip out their phone and that's it. That, to me, is the real danger.

The kids who are taught to stave off that immediate (but cheap) gratification and instead use the wealth of tech we have today for more productive uses are going to have a huge eg up on the ones who don't.

It's hard to generalize too much about screen time. It is almost universally bad, especially for kids, and should be kept to a minimum. Gadgets nowadays provide an unlimited stream of stimulation, novelty, and dopamine hits. No child can resist that, which is why the "lesser evils" like education apps are still "gamified" to have any chance of keeping a kid's attention. The result is that kids from an early age are growing up addicted to dopamine and the internet. It's not much different from fat kids already being addicted to junk food from an early age, it's just not as visible -- and both situations will be very difficult to change during the individual's life.

Really, you just have to spend some time with the current generation of children to see how disastrous technology has been. Their brain chemistry depends on constant outside stimulation, and anything else is boring.

Also, if you think you can effectively police what your kids do and see on the internet, you are sorely mistaken.

Whilst I agree it's hard to generalise and one shouldn't.

Now I'm a father of a 3 year old, I'm seeing differences in screen time with other parents/kids.

There's two kinds of parents, ones that pay attention to what their kids are doing, and those who don't.

We're almost all children of Boomers, who was raised with unfettered access to Television. Our boomer parents allowed some of us unfettered access to the early internet, video games, and television. Some of us were told to get outside and play. I certainly remember that some of my friends had restrictions on Games/TV/Etc, and some friends had no restrictions.

Most if not all of the fear mongering about Screen Time is coming from Boomers, not Gen X/Y.

That said.. I can easily separate the two parent's when it comes to screen time by telling them how bad letting their kids watch Youtube unmonitored is. The parents who monitor what their kids do will agree with me, the parents who don't monitor will disagree with me "Ohh its fine whatever".

The OP is right, the problem isn't Screen Time... it's content.

We have a rule in our house, no screen unless it's important, and if it should be shared.. So if my wife gets a text, and we're all playing, she tells us "Oh i got a text message from this person, I'm going to read it and reply". It involves everyone.

If my daughter is doing something, we do it with her. All her apps are educational and I've run them through my parents who are teachers with over 30+ years experience.

The problem is content, not screens.

Reality is those kids are going to grow up in a future where screens are always around. We'd like to think we're teaching them that screens are OK, as long as you include others in what you're doing.. So that my daughter doesn't become anti-social.

Couldn't have said it better myself. We have a strict list of apps and games that are allowed, but they basically get unfettered access to those ones. Nothing with ads or microtransactions, no mindless games, no YouTube at all unless we scraped a specific channel with youtube-dl to filter the crap. They have plenty of stuff to choose from and never get bored. Most the time they'd rather go play outside in the cubby or with the Lego anyway.

I'd love to see the list of apps your teacher parents approved. :)

> It is almost universally bad, especially for kids, and should be kept to a minimum.

Were you aware of this recent study[1] that seemed to draw a different conclusion?

> 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.

> 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.

I would think that something "almost universally bad" would present itself as more statistically significant in terms of well-being.

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00137-6

It is almost universally bad, especially for kids, and should be kept to a minimum.

Had I heeded that advice as a kid I almost certainly wouldn't have this very comfortable job and career I currently have. That being said I agree that not all screen time is created equal and it is important that screen time is guided and monitored. Also there is nothing that precludes screen time from also being a parent-child bonding activity.

I concur with this.

I decided that I would not enforce a time limitation on screen time, but actually forced myself to be parted of my kids activities, either in or outside of screen time, and in fact he doesn't really care much about multimedia content, occasionally plays some video games with me, and most of the time he just loves to play with his toys, draw and construct paper figures.

It might be because just chance, but I notice that my kid doesn't care as much about this kind of entertainment as the children of my family and friends who are more concerned and try (and mostly fail) to enforce limitations.

> I decided that I would not enforce a time limitation on screen time, but actually forced myself to be parted of my kids activities, either in or outside of screen time

This is my approach, as well, and I’ve found it to be really effective. Even if my daughter is sitting there watching cartoons on YouTube or TV I’m usually around to ask her what she’s watching and so she can show me and share with me all of the things she’s laughing and excited about. YouTube has also been a source of finding passions for her - She loves crafting and painting videos and now has a huge interest in them in “real life” and asks for craft and art supplies, which I’m more than happy to indulge.

I used to beat myself up a lot over her screen time, but now I see how valuable it is for her and how connecting with her throughout the day is far more important than fighting with her over a few more minutes of YouTube.

I hate the phrase "screen time". Why does the fact that there's a screen involved matter so much? Many "screen time" activities are more closely related to non-"screen time" activities than to other "screen time" activities.

If the kids is typing a report instead of handwriting it, or reading an ebook instead of a physical one, why does that count as "screen time" along with flappy bird?

Blue light produced by screens is harmful and effects sleep pattern.

Do you have any sources for that? Not being negative here, but last time I checked it was mostly in the realm of hypothesis and broscience.

This sounds like a source. http://www.gwern.net/docs/melatonin/2009-burkhart.pdf

But it seems to be very subjective. And the group that started limiting blue-light before sleep seems to have percieved their sleep quality as quite low, so the improvement might be only correlated?

Both iOS and Android have timed night mode features to lower the colour temperature... or at least apps to do that if not using a recent OS.

I'm not convinced it's much of an issue these days.

> It's like saying "time at the park is bad for you" because some kids go to the park to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What a great analogy. Thank you. I always bristle at the "screen time is bad" arguments because I spent a lot of time in front of a computer as a kid (as I imagine many here at HN did) and I think for the most part it was time well spent.

How do you teach them that the end of some "unlimited" screen time by dinner must not involve a tantrum? Because that's why screen time is limited in our house: not because of the screen time itself, but because of the bad vibes it leaves in the family life upon stopping. (Ages 7 and 9.)

We have strongly enforced limited time (the device itself lock when allowed time is over) and softly enforced ("unlimited" until some deadline).

For us it helped a lot to have reminders firing off 10 or 15 minutes before any hard deadlines (e.g going to school) and warning them 5 or 10 mins before dinner or going somewhere.

They're still not happy, but they take it way better and learn to do whatever they really want to do in that remaining time.

We taught them from a very very young age (1-2) that if they sook when it's time to stop on the tech, they don't get to use it next time. It rarely if ever actually got to that. They just save the game or stop the show and continue it another time.

Let them finish what they were doing. Give them a 5 minute warning and set a timer.

but even then excessive screen time is still bad because of what it precludes the kid from doing instead. like socializing or exercise. but that’s in the extreme case and would also apply to excessive anything, like reading

Likewise excessive socializing or exercise would preclude kids from reading or screen time. I don't see your point.

I guess their point was to balance the times. I.e. Yes, excessive socializing would also be bad if you start neglecting everything else.

Excessive socializing is the default, though - if kids have nothing better to do, they "hang out".

Is it? When I had nothing to do, I read or used the computer (for games, and then increasingly for programming).

Me too. Because I had essentially unlimited screentime. But you and me are the exceptions. Think of people you remember from primary and secondary school.

The clear solution is to jog on the spot, chatting with your friends while watching TV with subtitles on. The ultimate activity.

Perfectly showcasing why trying to do all simultaneously in a "balance" makes you benefit from none of them.

I think this activity is called “Pokémon Go”

The correct answer is we don’t know. In other words we rolled out a technology and now we’re conducting a giant science experiment on ourselves where it’s possible that the consequences are extremely harmful, such as producing a generation that’s going to suffer from all kinds of mental and physical issues through lack of exercise, insomnia and poor social skills. That compounded by a medical industry that likes to throw drugs at symptoms rather than solve the underlying causes.

It could go the other way of course and lead to a generation that’s smarter and more capable than ever before, thanks to being exposed to far more collective knowledge and wisdom than any before them.

Probably it will be some of both but to put it in context I think it’s always good to remember radium water (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radithor) as a cautionary tale of how blind faith in progress and technology can go wrong.

While I agree that we should be cautious, this is more or less the same arguments that where used against industrialization, cars, trains, children reading books, movies, vaccines, etc?

Well I think this depends on what you're measuring as the impact of screen time.

There are some negative effects of screen time that are not in doubt. It leads to a sedentary life style, this has negative impacts on fitness and health. It also isn't great for your eyes to maintain the same focal distance for long periods of time.

The same is true for reading a book but you don't see people up in arms about that.

I think you overestimate most people’s tolerance for children who are always reading. My interest was not exactly reinforced by adult praise and encouragement all the time. I’m confident there are plenty of people who got copious negative reinforcement for reading.

> [Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

> Socrates


Well, ya know, Socrates was great and all, but this particular theory isn't exactly supported by the millennia that came after him.

I've never found myself unable to stop reading a book even when I knew I should be doing something else. Like now. I should be getting some sleep but instead I'm reading/commenting about screen time. I think, mobile devices especially, are addictive in ways that prior media was just not. I often feel the way I felt after a few months of being a regular smoker - not really getting much pleasure from being online and knowing that I'm not really learning anything useful, but not really able to stop either. (I should note I did quit smoking entirely shortly after getting to that point though)

I'm seconding 'baddox here. I binge on books harder than on TV series, and often sacrifice sleep just to keep reading.

Observing people around me and the way they interact with all kind of media, including books, I'm starting to believe there's a more general factor here. Something about how deep a person wants to immerse themselves in the fictional world. For instance, most books, movies and TV shows that have an actual plot (i.e. not sitcoms / comedies) are a solitary affair for me - because with other people around, I can't properly engage on the emotional level. But I know plenty of people who watch the same movies while doing chores, read the same books five pages at the time, while talking, etc., at no point reaching (IMO) any kind of immersion. I observed the across-media correlation here - those who engage deeply with movies, do so with books and videogames. Those who don't engage with one medium, don't engage with others either.

I believe the latter type complains most about how their not-favourite media is "addictive".

I have certainly had the same experience with a book.

Yeah but how long does it take to read a book? Even if someone was binging on War and Peace, or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, one is addicted only for a few weeks or months at most- the internet is infinite.

Not really arguing either way here but I don't think the analogy really holds up. There are many books just like there are many websites.

I guess the differentiating factor is the instant availability. You can go to a library pick out one book, and unless it's exceptional you'll only be able to read it for some amount of time before you feel like you need to do something else. With the internet, the "something else" can still be the internet.

And with a book, if you're truly binging on it, then youll be done in several days at most for the longer books. And, chances are, you won't be going back to the library for another book right away and, if you do, the next one probably won't be as bingeworthy.

I guess I can see the analogy but it's still like comparing nicotine to caffeine.

> I guess I can see the analogy but it's still like comparing nicotine to caffeine.

Nitpick, but nicotine != cigarettes, and nicotine alone isn't that (if at all) habit-forming.

So is the bookstore.

I have this specific memory in primary school of sitting by myself during class when everyone else was either on the mat or doing whatever the order of the day was and I was absorbed in reading a stars wars novel to the complete exclusion of what I was supposed to be doing.

I never shut up in class and would constantly talk on the mat to other kids and was often separated for that. I think the teacher just left me the hell alone absorbed in my Star Wars novel that day because at least I wasn't distracting anyone.

Fond memory that.

Yes, I think that's the point of the analysis: that "screen time" is wildly underspecified and that it's probably correlated to other unconsidered factors.

Screen exposure before bedtime can also drastically affect sleep. Different color temperature and intensity and all, but on top of that is also the barrage of information that the screens deliver, which keeps our minds on alert. I find that I'm sleeping much better now that I turn off all screens at least half an hour before I start getting ready to go to sleep.

One could argue that if you were solving a complex problem that particular day, and it bothered you enough, you would still be thinking about it before going to bed. Wouldn't that keep your mind alert. As far as light intensity and color goes, many Asian countries have daylight florescent tube lights in their homes just like the ones in offices in US. But no one's complaining about drastic sleep deprivation in Asian countries with bright lights emitting all sorts of spectra

Yes, but by pumping oneself with information is to artificially induce complex problems. It's artificially inducing strain. Why excuse self-inflicted stress by saying that such stress occurs naturally as well?

Sleep deprivation is a major problem in Asian countries, but for different reasons:



Our eyes are constantly moving and refocusing (microsaccades), you never literally stare at the one spot. The problem with too much screen time is you blink less resulting in dry eyes.

I feel like I hit the sweet spot in life (I'm 42 now) to be able to appreciate what computers can do for me while not getting trapped in the cycle of dopamine craving content that's pushed on us now.

Back in 1987, to play games or do anything fun on a computer, you had to know how to use the computer. That would lead you down a rathole of technical questions that had the pay off of getting a game working, but also taught you stuff that was really useful. Today's devices are all about instant gratification, so kids have gotten into the habit of expecting that. I struggle mightily with my 10 year old son now with him understanding that not all things we do can have an immediately positive feedback loop. I don't want him to loose interest in rewarding things just because their is a barrier that needs to be overcome.

So my criticism of screen time is mainly in how our children (and adults) choose to use their time. Binge watching videos on youtube about their favorite game is not the same quality content as building a Raspberry Pie to create an emulation station. Both are focused on gaming, but one teaches you problem solving and hardware/software skills.

Not sure this analogy works but here goes...

Could you see it as what the car industry did for transportation, the tech industry is doing for our mental infrastructure? Setting up a private car infrastructure was a gigantic experiment with unforeseen (or were they really?) consequences to pollution, noise, the way cities were built/grew and so on. The initial idea was not much criticized, we have only been fine tuning the technology (safer cars, electric cars, better roads, etc). And today we are doing the same experiment but with our minds. And it's not going to change, we're just going to fine tune it. When your products are infrastructure you are safe. So screen/software makers don't really care about the debate of screen time. It's a debate about how much time and what you do on your screen and not so much how we should live our lives (we are already living a lot of our lives through screens!).

Meta-analyses aren't science, either. They're hardly more than commentary as it's very easy to interpret many studies in a particular way.

Out of curiosity how does one arrive at that cognitive veiwpoint? I can't seem to find my way there.

If we assume it's true for arguments sake then you can't read a meta-analysis of meta-analyses in order to reach that conclusion because such an act wouldn't be deemed a legitimate source of information...

So how do you get there? What's the path to seeing things from that specific angle?

Correct. Screen Time is an Apple product, and an invention of marketing.

The reality is that human behavior is drastically modified by mobile devices, the cloud and ubiquitous wireless broadband.

You couldn’t escape if you tried. The frogs are boiling.

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