Getting to the Meat of Screen Time Controversies in Silicon Valley
With titles like “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley” and pulled quotes that include “I am convinced the Devil lives in our phones,” recent reporting about Silicon Valley big wigs and how they’re handling screen time for their kids is enough to make any parent have a massive panic attack.
Keep reading, though, because there’s a lot more to the story than this inflammatory style of reporting would have the public believe.
iPhone Screen Time: The Controversy
Screen time is a relatively new phenomena as far as parenting is concerned.
In the 1980s, spending the evening in front of a screen was considered normal, in the 1990s, televisions and personal computers were both on the scene. So, why is it that suddenly a smartphone is The Big Scary Thing in the room?
One answer may be what Nellie Bowles hints at in her New York Times piece “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected” which highlights the ever-widening tech divide between higher and lower income families. She reports that lower-income teens spend an average of eight hours and seven minutes each day with screen-based entertainment, where higher-income teens only spend five hours and 42 minutes at it (second screening time is counted twice, once for the television and again for the mobile device).
Breaking the Argument Down
The same report Bowles references from Common Sense Media also says that that only 47 percent of those lower-income teens use a smartphone on any given day; whereas 69 percent of the same higher-income teens use their smartphones daily. Lower-income teens still use their phones longer the their upper income teens, but without seeing the data, it’s hard to know the why.
Is it because some of those lower-income kids have a healthy use and others have serious tech addictions? Or are they all equally spending problematic time with screens? The relatively smaller sample from the lower-income kids means that each teen’s individual use weighs a lot heavier than each of the 69 percent of higher-income kids sampled.
Another question no one bothered to ask is what they were consuming. Was it educational content or an eight-hour long session of Angry Birds? According to reporting by National Public Radio, research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center shows that lower-income kids spend a lot more time engaging with screens for educational purposes. Fifty-seven percent of screen time for the lower-income kids was dedicated to education; only 38 percent of screen time was used for education by kids with parents making between $50k and $99k.
The Negatives of Screen Time
Limited studies have been used to gauge the negative effects of screen time, but the ones that have been successfully completed indicate that obesity is a major side effect of screen time.
That one is pretty obvious, really. A group of researchers at UCLA are continuing to study the social effects of smartphone usage among sixth graders. What they found initially was that when asked to predict the mood of people in photographs both before and after a screen detox, the control group was essentially unchanged, but the group that had a five day screen-free trip to camp performed significantly better than before they left the electronics behind.
Even in these cases, though, researchers simply say that kids need to spend time with their friends in person. Texting is only so good for social creatures like humans. “You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” Yalda Unis, the UCLA team’s lead author and senior researcher with the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles explained in an article on the UCLA website.
As far as anyone can tell, screen time, like everything else, is fine in moderation.