Commentary: How much screen time is too much


When they're not sitting in front of their personal screens; be it a phone, iPad or a computer, they, the kids, are pretty easy going.

Most of the time they like to play outdoors, visit a local farm or attraction or just go for a ride in the woods on an ATV and look for deer.

It's during these times that they could be considered to be normal, well adjusted, fun humans. They interact well with others. They converse and tell stories of their exciting day in the woods or playing out in the yard. There is always much to talk about and share with the adults in their lives.

Then there is their screen life, or the dark time, as I'm inclined to call it. Immediately upon hitting the power button on any screen device they become very different creatures. I'm reluctant to even refer to them as people. They were people prior to turning on the screen. They become creatures after it's turned on.

Heaven forbid that you try to talk to a kid who's involved in "Angry Birds" or any one of the thousands of video games that are out there.

The house could be on fire or a bear break into your kitchen and the child would likely care less. There are towers to smash or realistic bad guys that need killing. The fire and/or bear can wait. There are points to be scored.

Back in the Stone Age when I went to college there was one pinball machine in the student center. I had a menial job that provided me with enough quarters so that I nearly became addicted to that machine.

It wasn't like I had to play it, but if I was playing it, don't even think about trying to distract me with some needless conversation, say about the building being on fire. I was on fire. I was racking up scores over 500,000 points. Leave me alone.

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Thankfully, I'd run out of quarters, leave the center and go on about my day. For the next 23 hours I'd be a normal human being (at least in my own mind, perhaps). But during my time on that pinball machine I was most definitely a very different person.

We've replaced the pinball machine with screens and I'm not convinced it was the smartest move humans have ever made. Screens are a lot more addictive than pinball machines and even television, which is also an addictive device designed to foul our minds.

But screens are different. You can feel it and see it in the user's eyes. A kid under 10 years of age spending hours on a screen is actually physically altering their brain. Studies may not yet prove with certainty that these alterations are harmful, but one need only observe the child as he or she gets sucked into the screen to understand that a behavioral change is taking place.

The human species has been evolving since day one and has never stopped evolving. In many ways we are much smarter than our predecessors. We've come a long ways from the hard life our ancestors had to live, but are we truly better off? We have created a technology that is entertaining, fascinating, educational and addictive. The human brain is an organ with a thirst for knowledge that is hard to quench. The screens of today may succeed in providing some temporary relief from that thirst, but at what cost?

If your child spends more than one hour per day staring mindlessly into a screen at the exclusion of everything else around them, then perhaps it is your responsibility to throw them a line and pull them out of it. Those who came before us found their answer for the quest for knowledge by learning everything they needed to know to simply survive. Those coming up behind us are finding their solution for knowledge by looking at a screen.

Look at the expression on the child's face the next time you see them on a screen. They're transfixed; hypnotized perhaps. The activity occurring inside that box in their hand is the only thing that matters to them. In that moment they care for nothing else. Not for you. Not for their world, because the screen has become their world and that screen may very well be physically changing their most important organ; the brain.

Does it matter? Time will tell.

Bob Stannard writes a regular column for the Journal.


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