Screen Time Alert

If you are developing thumb calluses from too much texting, bloodshot eyes from late night gaming, or gaining weight because of inactivity while over-ogling the boob tube, you may be flirting with even more serious maladies.  According to an article by San Diego State psychology professor Jean M. Twenge in the September, 2017 issue of The Atlantic Magazine, too many of today’s young people, the ones she calls “iGens,” are way too involved in screen time. 

The experts she quotes claim that any form of cathode-ray-tube exposure totaling over 2-1/2 hours a day is basically bad news.  If you’re in this group, your risks range from clinical depression, to chronic anxiety, to severe loneliness, to simply suffering from general unhappiness.  Your personal threat depends on the extent of your overuse plus several other complicating factors.  The worst news of all:  the teen suicide rate is up 20 percent among those who pander too much to today’s pervasive pixel peril.

Another common and troubling finding from several recent polls cited by Twenge was that the more young people are on Facebook, the unhappier they are.  Paradoxically, Facebook users have a much higher than usual concern about feeling left out even if they are regularly seeing their friends and associates in person.  Distress symptoms resulting from too much Facebook time can include loss of sleep, nervous tics, low grades, frequent family disputes, and a sustained level of general anxiety and depression.

Another finding from the polls: nearly all kids who have phones these days sleep with them and use them for alarm clocks. Many get less than the recommended minimum seven hours of uninterrupted rest. Most admit to checking their phones the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning, practices that experts agree can lead to serious sleep deprivation. 

Even so, there are some surprising and even a few encouraging aspects to being an iGen kid.  Perhaps to offset some of the unpleasant results of too much screen time, there is an increased teenage use of prescribed antidepressants and other mood managing drugs.   Unlike previous generations, today’s youngsters have fewer automobile accidents or get into as much trouble with drugs or alcohol.  That’s because there are less of them driving or even going out alone.  Actually, one in four teens lacks a driver’s license by the end of high school, and many of those who do get one only manage it because their parents complain they are tired of chauffeuring.  Fewer kids today have part-time jobs and even less keep bank accounts, although lots do carry parent-paid credit cards. 

The most alarming finding of all pertaining to screen time, however, is more and more young people of all ages spend a significant amount of their time alone in their rooms while becoming highly distressed by imaginary events taking place somewhere else within their surreal electronic world.

So where is all this isolation leading?  Well, Twenge admits there may be a corrective trend in the works.  Plenty of young people, she reports, are rebelling against the depersonalization that occurs when friends interrupt a live encounter to text someone or handle a phone call.  What seems to disturb them the most is when even their parents or grandparents succumb to modern society’s screen time menace.  Some have taken to gently removing the offending device from a relative’s hand, then edging forward boldly in their face and saying, “OK, Mom, it’s time to put that thing away now.  Let’s talk.”


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