What Does a Screen Do?

Slate published an article this month in its “Future Tense” section with that headline. The subheadline is quite provocative, asking, “The dangers linked to screen time for babies, kids, and teens are well-known. But is screen time really what’s causing them?”

The article is primarily about smartphone usage. Here’s a sample:

We know, for instance, that smartphone use is associated with depression in teens. Smartphone use certainly could be the culprit, but it’s also possible the story is more complicated; perhaps the causal relationship works the other way around, and depression drives teenagers to spend more time on their devices. Or, perhaps other details about their life—say, their family background or level of physical activity—affect both their mental health and their screen time. In short: Human behavior is messy, and measuring that behavior is even messier.

Slate author Jane C. Hu goes on to note that trying to conduct a double-blind study of screen time usage would very likely fail to meet the rigorous standards imposed by guidelines governing human subjects research. The article discusses research done at Texas Tech by Eric Ramussen and Jenny Radesky at Michigan. Interestingly enough, Radesky’s work led her to hypothesize that…

children’s temperament and behavior affected the amount of screen time they were exposed to, and screen time, in turn, affected their temperament and behavior; for a fussy toddler or preschooler, screen time might be a must to keep parents sane, but that screen time might also displace opportunities to learn self-regulation skills that would help them be less fussy over time.

In other words, it’s a two-way street.

The article is well worth a read. Here’s the link:

https://slate.com/technology/2020/03/screen-time-research-correlation-causation.html


The Mom Effect

MIT Technology Review posted an article back in November headlined “Two studies lay the blame for childhood screen tie at moms’ feet.” One study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (JAMA), the other was published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The former used survey data to check on preschoolers screen time to see if World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines were being observed and the latter looked at how children adopt screen viewing habits.

MIT Tech Review notes, “Moms bear the brunt of the blame in these studies because that’s how this kind of research has always been done.” The article also goes on to note that not all screen time is the same; some is good, some not (as I noted in my post just prior to this one).

It’s a quick and interesting read.

Here is the URL for the article:

https://www.technologyreview.com/f/614759/two-studies-lay-the-blame-for-childhood-screen-time-at-moms-feet/

 


Not All Screen Time Is Equal

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 [1996]) 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:

https://onezero.medium.com/scientists-are-ready-to-move-beyond-screen-time-d403b058e9ec


New Study Shows Weaknesses in Research About Screens and Teens

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:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-019-01825-4

This is an open-source site and you may download a PDF of the study.


Social Media and Eating Disorders

Well, here’s an interesting Medium article by a pediatrician discussing a link between social media use and eating disorders in young people.

https://elemental.medium.com/does-social-media-cause-eating-disorders-622a2c1e9f3f

A more direct source for the study is here:

https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/eating-disorders/news/online/%7B909b5c53-b22c-4f66-aaef-622dfdffc44e%7D/social-media-use-associated-with-disordered-eating-among-young-adolescents

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.


Can Scary Movies Be Good for You?

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:

https://elemental.medium.com/horror-movies-can-be-good-for-anxiety-b542ac8dbed7

 


Do Screens Really Stunt Kids’ Brains?

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:

https://elemental.medium.com/do-screens-really-stunt-kids-brains-b491d62e9ed3


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