The wonderful book, “Set Free Childhood” by Martin Large, focuses on the questions and controversies of media and childhood. Our last post, from Chapters 4 and 5, focused on the actual physical hazards of screens – mainly the effects on the brain and the senses. Chapter 6 focuses on the social hazards of screens, including addiction, children’s play, advertising, anti-social behavior, cognitive and learning impacts.
The first thing this chapter points out is that time with screens means less time engaging with parents and less real conversation. Screens can lead to isolation within the family under the same roof, because everyone is in a different place on a different device. It can also have an impact upon cognitive and learning because it impedes sleep. An article from the Daily Telegraph from 2002 points out that “spending just five hours in front of a computer can hugely increase the risk of depression and insomnia.” There is a fairly recent study from 2015 that details for adults, excessive computer usage during leisure hours leads to sleeping difficulties (but did not find a connection between using a computer for work and sleep challenges). Another 2015 study with 9,846 participants focused on adolescents in three age cohorts from the ages 16-19 . The findings were similar in that increased screen usage was related to sleep difficulties. This chapter mentions that after TV is viewed, viewers found it harder to concentrate after viewing, and their moods were the same or worse then before the TV watching took place. The effects of video games are mentioned in a separate box on page 100.
The main issue with screens from a social standpoint is that play is being underminded and children are actually play-deprived. Teachers have found “heavy viewers to be less imaginative and less dramatic in their play, show less initiative, are more likely to expect to be entertained, can pay less attention to stories, sometimes lack coordination, and do not play so constructively as light or non-viewing children.” (page 102). The rest of this chapter reviews turning children into consumers, and anti-social behavior.
Chapter 7 looks at how screens affect language and literacy. Children can suffer delayed language due to lack of speaking with parents. This chapter talks about how children learn to speak through imitation, listening and conversing with real people and about the consequences of choosing screens over regularly reading time.