There are few things in this world I know to be true. The sky is blue. Cheese is the answer and remedy to any and all problems. And technology, despite its good intentions, has officially taken over our lives, for better or for worse. According to a recent New York Times column by Dr. Jane Brody (and a host of other super in-depth and convincing studies), science seems to think it's the latter. Technology may very well be ruining us. Actually, forget about us for a second — technology is ruining our kids' (or future kids') brains, and it's doing so in a whole host of really depressing ways.
Spring-boarding Brody's column on the screen time debate is the airing of the documentary Web Junkie on PBS this upcoming Monday, July 13. In it, filmmakers explore a very real and very disturbing phenomenon happening right now in China that involves teens and video game addiction. And I don't just mean your typical, run-of-the-mill kind of tech addiction, either. I mean kids who are spending so many hours staring at a screen with a controller in their hand that they often forget to eat, sleep, or even go to the bathroom for dozens of hours at a time. Even worse, they're spending so much time engrossed in a virtual world that they're actually having trouble distinguishing between what's real and what's fake. In fact, it's gotten so bad that China has gone so far as to label "Internet addiction" an actual illness.
Now, the whole "technology rots your brain" argument isn't exactly a new one. After all, the screen time debate has been heating up big time over the last decade, with plenty of stats to back up both sides of the argument. While no official government warning has ever been issued, the American Academy of Pediatrics has spoken out when it comes to kids. The official word? According to the AAP, screen time for children under two should be avoided entirely. Per its official website: "A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."
The AAP also asserts that kids spend somewhere in the neighborhood of seven hours a day on "entertainment media," which they define as TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices. The association strongly advises parents to not only limit media viewing for kids two and older, but also to monitor what they're watching closely for violence, sexual content, or drug and alcohol abuse. "Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity," the AAP adds. "In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors."
But that's not all. Here's what else science has told us — so far — about just how terrible technology might be for kids (and, by extension, for us).
It's Ruining Our Eyesight
I don't know about you, but I didn't really need a study to tell me this one. I spend all day squinting behind a laptop at work, only to leave and squint some more while I read my phone on the way home. Screens are my life. And chances are that if you're a human being living on planet Earth, they're your life, too. The latest stats claim that the average American spends around nine hours a day staring at screens. Which, while pretty insane, sounds about right.
All this screen-staring is definitely taking a toll on our eyes, though. A 2013 report by the Vision Council found that as screen time steadily increases for kids and adults, so do eye problems. "Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults experience digital eye strain as a result of the growing use of these devices," researchers wrote in the report. "Adults aged 18 to 34 report feeling eye strain at a higher rate (45 percent) than their older counterparts."
It's Seriously Addicting
Ever tried going an hour or more without checking emails, reading texts, or scrolling through Twitter? If you're anything like me, that might be about the quickest way to drive you totally insane. Web Junkie pretty much illustrates the worst of what can happen there.
But according to a 2011 report, the issue is much more wide-ranging. Researchers behind the study, which was titled "The World Unplugged," surveyed 1,000 students across 12 different college campuses and 10 different countries after asking them to unplug for just one day. In the end, they discovered that nearly four in five students experienced significant stress, and feelings of panic over not being able to "connect" for 24 hours. One student at the University of Maryland even compared his technology cravings to that of a crackhead "itching" for a coke fix. So yeah, if that's not a technology addiction, I don't know what is.
It's Being Used As A Babysitter
According to a recent study, 58 percent of American parents admitted using a "digital babysitter" to occupy their kids while they did something else. This may come as no surprise if you've ever watched a kid under five before and literally had no idea what to do when they started bawling their eyes out. But for parents to stick them with an iPad or in front of a TV for hours? Yeah, probably not the best idea. As Brody's NYT piece points out, "technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction" — and in those early years of life, kids need that more than anything.
Texting Is Literally Taking Up Every Waking Moment
If you think you text a lot, just try spending a day shadowing a teenager. It will boggle your mind. Here's just a snapshot of what a 2012 Pew Research Study found about the texting habits of teens: they send 50 texts a day on average, and 1,500 a month, with texting being their most frequent form of communication with friends. And it bears mentioning that this study was done in 2012 — can you imagine what those stats read like now?
To be fair, though, there have been plenty of other studies conducted that have highlighted the many benefits of technology, so let's not hate on modern gadgetry too much. Take the 2012 study published in the Journals of Gerontology, which claimed Internet use can actually help slow cognitive decline.
Still, it's impossible to deny that as a society, we have a problem here. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and the author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age , underscored this when speaking with Dr. Brody for her NYT piece. "Children have to know that life is fine off the screen," she said. "It's interesting and good to be curious about other people, to learn how to listen. It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life."
They also need time to "daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance" added Steiner-Adair. But in order to do that, the tablets need to be taken away and the TVs turned off. (At least for a little while.) Easier said than done, I know, but as we march further and further into a digital-obsessed world, how else are we going to avoid our brains turning to mush?
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