TEENAGE screen use has been unfairly demonised, according to an Oxford academic who claims we need to pay more attention to the benefits as well as the downsides that technology – from video games to Snapchat – offer young people.
Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University’s Internet Institute will make his claims as part of an Edinburgh Fringe debate this Friday that aims to fight back at the “scaremongering” and “bad science” suggesting our children are facing a crisis in terms of both physical and mental health as a result of screen use.
The debate – Are Screens Destroying Our Children? – is part of the Assembly Rooms Future Play strand, which also features plays themed around our digitally influenced world, a discussion programme and an interactive “gadgets gallery” involving games and puzzles, and looks to open up thorny issues around the effects of technology.
The issue has divided the scientific community with some claiming screen use must be regulated and others insisting there is not the evidence to support it. Przybylski claimed polarised debate was unhelpful arguing both pros and cons should be considered.
Yet his work contradicts the theory that each “dose” of screen time can be harmful by proving moderate use (defined as 1-3 hours) can help young people build their identities and social life in a positive way. Other benefits identified by the Oxford researcher include opportunities to improve problem solving abilities and the mood boosting properties of playing video games.
Though gaming is often considered a socially isolating activity, he points to research showing a third of teenage boys give out their gaming handle when meeting people as a way of keeping in touch while 83 percent of adolescents say social media makes them feel more connected to friends. Just over two thirds say they look for support online to help them deal with challenging situations in their lives.
Przybylski’s own research showed those playing video games for an hour a day reported a better sense of wellbeing than those who did not play and it was only those who played for more than three hours a day who experienced negative effects. Another recent study looking at the screen use of over 120,000, 15-year-olds backed up previous findings that “moderate use” of digital technology is “not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world”.
“What we have is the intersection of tech – which is new and we might not understand – and our kids, who we care deeply about,” he said, claiming that some used scaremongering tactics to sell books. “It’s a perfect storm for blowing things out of proportion.” Parents, he added, deserved to have the full picture so they could make informed choices about where to place restrictions.
“As a parent you need to be able to decide if this is the hill you’re going to die on. When we are looking at setting time limits on screen time we need to know if they are actually based on evidence. If it is not it violates the public’s trust in science. These are really important questions.”
Poppy Burton-Morgan, who is directing the plays Pixie Dust and Wondr as part of the Fringe online strand, agreed that screen use was often demononised and claimed Przybylski’s research had led the company to create more interesting and nuanced work.
“The big problem is not the technology but the fear mongering around it,” said Burton-Morgan. “There’s an awful lot of bad science out there. We’re not saying it’s all great and young people should be on screens 18 hours a day but it’s about balance. It’s a reality in our lives and we should help our children to navigate it. If we try to stop allowing children to access it all together that could actually be more damaging.
“Art has a brilliant capacity to open up the debate and allow us an insight into different perspectives. The plays are not about shutting down the other side but about encouraging people to open up the questions.”
Psychologist Aric Signman said his concerns about the over-use of digital technology by teenagers was based not on opinion but widely accepted scientific evidence. “I am not anti-technology but my concerns are mainly to do with the excessive over-use of leisure screen time,” he said. “If children are staying up late and not getting enough sleep because of excessive screen time it is a medical fact that it will have a negative effect. There is also the issue of movement. We are seeing more diabetes, people are heavier and tech is a contributing factor.”
Screen dependency was another issue, he argued, which could lead to a rapidly escalating use of technology. “Some teenagers have a genetic predisposition towards screen dependency and we need to keep on eye on it,” he added. “Children may indeed gain benefits but they may also end up with a dependency.”
Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It, said screen time for younger children still needed to be rationed to stop them getting hooked. “Young children need as much real, active play as possible, outdoors with other kids,” she added. “It’s vital for physical health, language and problem solving skills, self-regulation and emotional resilience.”
Source : HeraldScotland