An op-ed in the journal Nature by two Stanford professors asserts that much of the research around the effects of “screen time” is inherently flawed because of its reliance on participants’ self-reports of time spent viewing their screens. As one of the op-ed’s authors, Thomas Robinson, notes, there are different varieties of screen time that are capable of producing quite different effects.
To see the problem, consider four adolescents. The first spends three hours a night playing video games and chatting with fellow gamers on Discord. The second spends three hours browsing and posting on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The third spends three hours passively watching Netflix and YouTube. The fourth never sits down with a device for longer than 20 minutes at a time but gets notifications on their phone every five minutes throughout the day and typically spends only a few seconds or minutes responding to each.
Co-author Byron Reeves (who also co-authored, with Clifford Nass, The Media Equation ) discusses a new research approach that is more invasive but likely to be more informative and reliable. The Medium article by Will Oremus that covers the op-ed is here:
Amy Orben at Cambridge University has conducted an exhaustive analysis and meta-analysis of studies looking into the effects of adolescent use of digital media and screen time. Her conclusion is that the research overall is far from definitive and often flawed. Her study concludes with suggestions for improving the methodology. Here’s the link:
This is an open-source site and you may download a PDF of the study.
Well, here’s an interesting Medium article by a pediatrician discussing a link between social media use and eating disorders in young people.
A more direct source for the study is here:
And apparently, it’s not just the female gender that is affected. Lead investigator Wilksch found 45% of male adolescents in the study were affected.
It seems that scary movies may have therapeutic effects by way of relieving anxiety. It may seem counterintuitive, but some recent research is now weighing in on the subject:
Apparently, time spent viewing screens can stunt development of white matter in the brains of 3- to 5-year-olds, according to recent research by John Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the study leader.
On the other hand, the article points out that:
Daniel Anderson, a professor emeritus in psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who was not involved in the study, says that while it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that screen time is bad for kids, there are alternative explanations for the result. “We know that real-time interactions with adult caretakers are really important for language development in young children, and we know that screens can’t fill that gap,” he says. “What they may have found simply is that screens are a proxy for minimal parent-child interactions.”
The article goes on to say that Hutton agrees with Anderson’s interpretation. Here is the link to the piece from Elemental Medium:
A study by Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute has found that screen time for children may actually be beneficial, in contrast to other studies that have nearly universally concluded that screen time is bad. Przybylski takes issue with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which are:
- children between 2 and 5 should be limited to “one hour a day of high-quality programming”
- infants between 18 and 24 months can have screen time so long as it’s high quality and with a caregiver
- babies shouldn’t be exposed to screens other than video chat
Przybylski and his colleagues used the same data set from the National Survey of Children’s Health via the US Census Bureau between June 2016 and February 2017 to come to different conclusions than those reached by, among others, Jean Twenge, “one of the most prominent critics of letting children have screen time and the author of the book iGen, which argues that technology is making kids less happy.”
The two researchers disagree with each other, needless to say. Here’s the link to the article in MIT Technology Review about the new study.
Niall Ferguson, a British ex-pat now living in the USA and a member of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has given a very engaging interview about the relationship between ideas and the networks that propagate them. It’s an insightful piece and one I recommend highly.
“One should never decouple ideas from the network structures that propagate them.”