The generation dubbed as "Digital Natives", born from 2011 onwards, consume the highest amount of screen time ever in the entire history of humanity. Kids aged ten and younger, preschoolers included, spend an average of four to six hours in front of a screen.
This length of time is huge compared to the current Gen Xers (41-55 yrs old) who were the first generation exposed to large amounts of television and home video games. Today's toddlers also clock in more screen time than the Millennials (25 to 40 yrs old) and even more than some of the Gen Zers (15 to 24 yrs old).
It is a global phenomenon - no matter the country, race, or religion. And who can blame them? It's a natural by-product of the proliferation of smart phones and tablets.
Parents and scientists naturally want to know if screen time is safe and how much time is ok or not ok? We still don't have a definitive answer. It takes 20+ years to conduct scientific studies. The ongoing studies researching the impact that digital tools have on the brain, behavior, and health of kids are only seven to ten years old.
We have to wait until the children are in their teens or twenties to see any effects. But beyond the research, many have already observed the seeming consequences in children and teens.
Teachers, pediatricians and psychologists have raised alarms regarding the record numbers of kids with interactional or temperament disorders, language development issues and more. The higher the screen exposure, the more children experience sleep, attention and learning disruptions, and significant drops in fitness levels. As young brains constantly stimulated by sound and media, they have difficulties in school, especially when the work needs focus and concentration, such as reading and writing.
Learning on screen is also less effective than learning face to face since the brain does not get stimulated the way it does in real life. And of course, the screen addiction children experience is made worse by parents who are also on their gadgets, picking up their smart phone an average of 200 times a day.
Teenagers and gamers have it slightly worse as well. They average anywhere between six to 13 hours a day, and many can't cope with less time. Screen addiction is an officially recognized medical condition since 2018, as stated by the WHO. In the same breath, however, there are also positive effects of gaming recorded. Many long time gamers surprisingly score higher in attention tests - with higher visual acuity as well. There are also gaming technologies currently being developed to help those with visual, sensory and memory conditions
In other words, digital devices themselves are neither good nor bad. They have multiple functions beyond entertainment or distraction. It boils down to how we use it. For very young children it is not healthy to give them any screen time at all. For teenagers, research results are coming in but limiting gadget time might be a good idea anyway. For now, the right amount of balance - for screen and no screen time - is something most families will have to determine independently.
Directed by: Raphaël Hitier