• May 18, 2022
 Op-Ed: Screen Time

Op-Ed: Screen Time

Back in the 1960’s I remember my mother telling me not to sit so close to our Magnavox color tv console my family had purchased that was the center of entertainment in our house.

“The radiation will burn your eyes out.” I remember her saying. I think she also warned me about some kind of cancer risk as well.

Her warnings morphed over time into “You’re eyes will be crossed and you won’t be able to uncross them if you sit too close” as well as “You will have your brain fried by watching too much television.” At the time, I was never completely sure she was telling the truth to me. After all, surely Captain Kangaroo wouldn’t irradiate his entire audience of children. He was such a nice man it seemed.

I suppose my mother’s purpose was to scare me enough so that I wouldn’t spend so much time in front of the the “boob tube” (a reference to what happened to your mind if you watched to much television, not a body part.) Did it work?

Probably not. I remember watching pretty much what I wanted to.

The difference, even back then, was that I tried to watch more “mature” material (other then Captain Kangaroo and Saturday morning cartoons) because I wanted to be an adult, even at an early age.

So my viewing consisted of a lot of PBS, even though I didn’t understand a lot of it.

The material was high quality, even though I didn’t understand all of it.

Captain Kangaroo gave way to Zoom, The Electric Company, and then NOVA, Cosmos and the like. Bob Keeshan was the gateway drug to Carl Sagan.

I often think about my mother and her dire warnings of impending doom whenever I hear of a study that makes a broad generalization:

  • Butter is bad for you.
  • Eggs are bad for you.
  • Cell phones will cause your car to explode at the gas station.
  • Cell phones will give you brain cancer

I thought of her when I recently read a study that said that said that kids spend too much time in front of screens. It isn’t hard to find a study that picks on technology in education. The British seem particularly good at jabbing sticks into the eyes of ed tech. And it isn’t too hard to make the connection, if you have lived long enough, to link the old “too much TV research to “too much Technology” research. Everything old is new again if you are young, or you have a bad memory.

  • “Screen time keeps kids from understanding emotions.” says UCLA.
  • “Screen time should be limited” says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • “Screen time too much for teenagers.” says the Brookings Institute

The cumulative effect of these types of studies are that the public will think that ALL SCREEN TIME IS BAD TIME. The implication then is that using technology is bad. If you sit in front of a screen, you are slowly losing your mind. And adults that allow it are complicit in the mental homicide.

Of course, that is wrong. It is not about the time in front of a screen. It is about what the child is DOING on the screen. A child that spends 10 hours in front of a screen is being just as social as a student that is spending ten hours reading a book, or ten hours practicing a violin or ten hours running around a track or lifting weights. A good parent should be watching their children, no matter their age, and limiting ANY kind of behavior that they think is inappropriate or “too much.” Ten hours of straight Netflix watching anime to me is just as bad as ten hours straight of reading.

However, ten hours straight of watching educational material on Netflix…is that bad? Is ten hours of NOVA, or Cosmos with NDT, or a Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War equal to ten hours of Marvel Superhero movies? Is reading ten hours of classic literature the same as reading ten hours of Batman graphic novels?

I remember once talking to a parent about taking their kids to Barnes and Noble. The parent was talking to me about the dangers of the internet, and that there were lots of “bad things” out there. I asked the parent if they would take their child to B&N. “Of course” she said, “it is, after all a book store.”

The implications were that bookstores were somehow inherently good while the vast majority of material on the internet was inherently bad. I reminded her that there were entire sections of the bookstore that had books about sex and sexuality, as well as Playboy and Penthouse magazines. “Well she said “I don’t allow him to go there. We go to the books that I think he will read and are good for him.”

“So you monitor what he is doing, and you make sure he goes the appropriately aged materials.”

“Yes, of course.” she agreed.

And that is exactly what we must do with children and their screen time. Schools cannot monitor children at home. That is the parent’s job. Not only to make sure that children limit screen time to what they think is appropriate, but also to make sure that what children are actually DOING on the screen is age appropriate and quality. Less entertainment, more education.

It is not about the amount of screen time. It is all about quality screen time. Whether it is in an iPad, a laptop or a Magnavox color console.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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  • It’s both Tim. There’s a lot of research that supports more than 2 hours sitting doing anything, be it watching TV or watching brain surgery, isn’t healthy. I support technology but not at the expense of getting outside and getting your hands dirty and actually exploring your surroundings.

    • There is a saying “Moderation in all things.” I think that that is true here. However, I have noticed a concerted effort by some researchers / groups to try and impune “screen time” as it applies to the latest technology. It seems to me that there is no differnece between what is being said now and what my mother told me 50 years ago.

      But I will say that parents today have gone out of their way to keep kids indoors fearing non existant “bad hombres” that will kidnap their kids at a moments notice. So, what do you do when your parents dont want you to go outside?

      On the other side of the spectrum, I remember going to high school and the park across the street was called “Pot Park” because of all the smoking going on there. Those kids were “outdoors” and enjoying the sunshine, but I certianlly would not have called what they were doing quality outdoor entertainment.

  • Back in the day my mother bought a Magnavox television exactly like the one above in the picture, we had the television in our downstairs den.Then Cable TV came to El Paso in the early 1970’s so we never had to sit near the television as the cable box had a long wire cord hooked up to the TV.
    It had access to 60 channels including 4 TV stations from Los Angeles……like KTLA. El Paso only had 3 TV stations,and two from Juarez, KELP the ABC affiliate KROD CBS and KTSM NBC.
    KTSM Weather with Ted Bender and his chalkboard map of the United States where he would pinpoint
    cities weather temperatures with a white chalk then write down the temperature number.
    That was pretty primitive since there were not any weather satellites in outer space.

    • Alberto, sounds like you watched a lot of TV back in the day..I remember old Ted Bender.

      • Tim Holt,between hanging out in the irrigation canals of the Lower Valley trying to catch fish and watching TV, it was a day and night routine to prevent summer time boredom.

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