ScienceSkepticism

Are Computer Screens Ruining Children?

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Sorta transcript:

WARNING: if you are under the age of 18, please be aware that watching this video may make you obese, give you mental health problems, or cause large-scale “social and economic consequences for society as a whole.” If you’re under the age of 7 (and I’ve seen the comments you leave so I assume you are), you’re basically just fucked having just watched this far. Just give up and go live in a muddy hole in the forest until you die.

A group of concerned parents, doctors, and angry letter writers have written an angry letter to the readers of The Guardian, which the paper published in full in their “Education” section. In the letter, the group explains that a “screen-based lifestyle” does immeasurable harm to children, and so they’re asking the British government to establish guidelines regulating the use of electronics for children under the age of 12.

When I say the harm done is “immeasurable” I’m not using their language — I’m actually being scientifically accurate. The harm is either so small or so great that it is apparently unable to be measured by any scientific instrument. The angry letter doesn’t include any citations to back up its claims, but I know of several studies that have been unable to find any connection between screens and psychological or physical damage to children.

The angry letter was brought to my attention thanks to the excellent rebuttal Tweets of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London who specializes in the adolescent brain. Professor Blakemore points to studies like a large-scale longitudinal analysis that found no link between screen-based activity and active play. Yes, there is an obesity epidemic that negatively affects children, but it’s probably being driven more by easy access to high-calorie food, as opposed to easy access to Facebook and video games.

To give the angry letter writers their due, I agree with them that it would probably be great to have a governmental position focused on improving the health and wellbeing of children, if that’s not already being done. But demanding immediate action to limit the amount of screen-time children get is ridiculous, because there’s just not much data on it, and what we do have shows us that screens probably aren’t a big deal.

Every generation has their media that will destroy children’s brains, and as a result, humanity itself. Plato thought it would be the written word, because people wouldn’t be able to remember anything any more and so would no longer be wise. Men would be filled, “not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, (and) they will be a burden to their fellows.”

Don’t get me wrong — I do think there’s a good chance social media, displayed on screens, may lead to the destruction of humanity. Not because it makes children fat and rots their brains, but because Donald Trump just Tweeted that we need more nuclear weapons to fight other countries who have nuclear weapons. Blame the Trumps. Not the screens.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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