Screen Time and Children (Are Computers Dumbing Us Down?)

Screen Time and Children (Are Computers Dumbing Us Down?)Laptops are showing up in classrooms all over America. That’s on top of the cell phones and tablets that children use every day.

There is growing evidence, however, that technology rewires brains, and not always in good ways. What is all that computer time doing to the way your children think, learn and behave? I take a closer look in Screen Time and Children (Are Computers Dumbing Us Down?).

How Technology Rewires Children’s Brains

The overuse of technology has started to show damaging effects on children’s overall health and emotional well-being.

  • Lack of exercise is linked to a high rate of childhood obesity.
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight interrupts sleep rhythms and results in low levels of Vitamin D.
  • Blue screen lighting disrupts melanoma, which regulates sleep and well-being.
  • Many children have an impaired ability to have meaningful social interactions.
  • Many children report lowered self-esteem and higher rates of depression.

Experts Are Raising the Alarm

Experts in technology and human development have started expressing concern about the amount of time children spend on their digital screens.

In an article at Hacker Noon, Muffie Waterman describes the different changes our brains go through when we absorb new information and new events.

Digital Addiction

Although the article is pretty technical, it’s clear that Waterman, a tech expert, is concerned about the potential bad effects of technology on children’s developing brains. She likens the addiction to technology to addictions to drugs and alcohol.

To those who think that comparison is extreme, Waterman says it’s something we need to explore seriously:

“We’re engaged in the largest social experiment of human history as we put powerful, poorly understood technology into the hands of our children. In the space of 10 short years we have gone from the invention of the smartphone to near-saturation of internet-enabled mobile devices.”

Waterman says the time to raise the alarm is “yesterday.”

Who’s Rewiring Your Kid’s Brain?Rewiring Children's Brains

A landmark 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that the concerns of people like Waterman are real.

One key takeaway from the study is that children’s brains are showing definite physical changes at an early age. It’s becoming clear that technology rewires brains:

“In extreme cases, researchers also said that some brain scans of 9- and 10-year-olds who spend more than seven hours a day using electronic devices show a thinning of the brain’s cortex, which usually happens later in development. It’s worth noting these are early results that have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so they shouldn’t be viewed as definitive. As the NIH’s Dr. Gaya Dowling told 60 Minutes, ‘We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know yet if it’s a bad thing.'”

What Do the Tech Moguls Know That We Don’t?

What’s really interesting is that the people who know technology best are also those most likely to shield their children from the harmful effects of that same technology.

A 2017 article in Business Insider found that tech moguls like Bill Gates and tech executives in Silicon Valley all share one trait. They don’t allow their children to use computers in school or electronic devices at home.

They Know the DangersUse Caution

According to researcher Sherry Turkle, who has written extensively about the effects of technology on society, that’s because these technology experts know the danger best:’

“‘Here I am at MIT, surrounded by super techies, and same story here,” said Turkle, who’s based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. ‘Everybody’s at a Montessori school and has rules about no computers at the dinner table, no computers at breakfast, no computers here, no computers there, no computers in the classroom. I mean, same story.'”

Many of these executives and tech employees send their children to Montessori schools or Waldorf schools. These schools prohibit the use of laptops, cell phones and tablets in school.

Limiting Home Use

They also curtail their children’s use of technology at home.

A follow-up article in 2018 profiled the family lives of executives at Silicon Valley companies. The article noted that their avoidance of this technology should raise red flags for the rest of us.

Writing about the Koduri family, for instance, the magazine pointed out that:

“There are no video game systems inside the Koduri household, and neither child has their own cell phone yet. Saurav and Roshni can play games on their parents’ phones, but only for 10 minutes per week. There are no limits to using the family’s vast library of board games. A while back, the family bought an iPad 2, but for the last five years it’s lived on the highest shelf in a linen closet.”


Low-Tech SchoolsLow-Tech Schools

The article also described schools in Silicon Valley that cater to this low-tech approach.

“At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a private school in Los Altos, California, kids use chalkboards and number 2 pencils. Faculty don’t introduce kids to screen-based devices until they reach the eighth grade.

“At Brightworks School, a K-12 private school in San Francisco, kids learn creativity by using power tools, dismantling radios, and attending classes in treehouses.”

If you think about who’s rewiring your kid’s brain, it’s clearly the tech companies who want to create addicted consumers. At this point, the obvious question is, “What do these tech executives know about their own products that you don’t?”

How to Reduce the Effects On Your Children

If you’re concerned about how technology rewires children’s brains, you can start taking steps at home to protect your children. Some family health experts recommend the following steps to keep your whole family more mentally healthy:

  • Put a time limit on their use of video games. Some experts recommend 30 minutes or less each day.
  • Forbid the use of electronic devices at the dinner table or on family outings.
  • Encourage your children to engage in outdoor activities and hobbies that don’t require technology.
  • Remove televisions from children’s rooms.
  • Turn off all children’s cell phones and devices in the evening.

You can fight this

You Can Fight the Effects of Too Much Technology

You’re likely to meet with strong resistance from your children when you establish these rules. Remind yourself that you’re protecting your kids from a potentially dangerous substance. You’ll also be increasing your children’s social and emotional health.

Is the overuse of technology a problem you’ve got experience with?

If you’re a classroom teacher, it’s possible you have concerns about technology use in your classroom from both school-owned devices and student-owned.

Maybe you’ve decided that with the additional load of all the technology issues, now is the time to start planning your exit from the classroom.  If so, you’re not alone.

According to the research, several hundred thousand teachers leave the field annually.  Many of them have started their own businesses.

If you’re looking to supplement your income, or completely replace it, take a look at my #1 recommendation for escaping the classroom.  It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns.

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10 thoughts on “Screen Time and Children (Are Computers Dumbing Us Down?)”

  1. Hello Nancy, very interesting and informative article. I am afraid that you are right, our kids today are so much in front of the computer, which is not good at all. I remember a time where I was a schoolboy, there were only books and now there are not any books.  Everything is on computers which are in some form scary. I have two boys and they are of course limited to the computer, although they are angry at me but it is because of their health. I encourage parents to also limit their children when it comes to spending time on the laptop as it can turn into something worse.

    • Hi Daniel.  I’ve talked with many teachers who are proud of the fact that their schools are getting rid of textbooks.  I think it’s the wrong direction to be taking.  Computers serve their purpose, but so do textbooks.  Our children are going to be poorer as a result.  I hope you continue to encourage people to limit their children’s computer time.  

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  2. Wow, this is a very good one you have discussed here. It’s a topic that should be on the lips of every parent.  But, you see, many parents do not see the problem mostly because they too spend a lot of time with their laptops too. This is the reason why they find it hard to warn their kids. They cannot regulate this because if they’re not watching the TV, they’re also on their gadgets. So, how do we deal with this then?   You have just broadcast an awareness that should go round, and I am going to share this important message on how screen time damages the brain. Nice eye opener here.

    • You’ve just hit on one of the problems within this problem.  The folks creating and marketing technology to all of us have done their jobs too well.  And, as a culture, we don’t have long-term experience with the pitfalls of technology.  So, as you said, parents and children alike are addicted to their gadgets.  I’m glad you’re going to pass the information along to your friends and colleagues.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  3. I am a parent who believes that technology introduction to kids is having serious damaging effects on them. They are turning to addicts right from being a kid. That is simply outrageous and disheartening. I took a tablet from my kid yesterday and he was weeping so bitterly that I felt so irritated till I had to punish him by grounding him. Screen time needs to be totally reduced to the bare minimum, and if possible eradicated for kids at a younger age. Social media should have restrictions and sanctions for kids that would prevent them from accessing it. It is bad.

    • Your experience with you son is similar to many stories I’ve read lately.  Sometimes the child becomes so upset by the idea of being separated from their device, that they tremble and become extremely agitated.  Too much of anything just isn’t good.  It’s as you said, too much media and screen time is bad.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  4. It is actually quite scary stuff, and a lot of children are exposed to way too much screen time on a daily basis. They have even forgotten how to play outside, and if there isn’t an internet connection then they are bored.

    I am a dance teacher and over the past few years, I have noticed more and more muscle tone problems and postural problems. It was never this bad when I started teaching in the 90’s.

    I have nothing against technology, but I am a firm believer in ‘everything in moderation.’  I quite like the approach of those low tech schools in Silicon Valley.

    • It’s frightening to hear that dance teachers are seeing an increase in physical problems in their students.  Without the normal childhood play, it makes sense that this would become more prevalent.  Your suggestion of moderation is excellent.  You’re right, there’s lots to like about the methods of the low tech schools.  I think they may be onto something.

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation; I appreciate it! 

  5. This is a really interesting post and I find it very interesting. I’ll like to go straight to the question you asked about GH overuse of technology, Yes, I’ve had a lot of experiences about this and I’ll love to share. A few years back, I decided not to be writing on paper since most of the things I’ll be doing is on the laptop, so I got so found of it and I lost the interest of using pen.  Seriously, It was so bad to the extent that I don’t write in bible studies, I prefer typing on my phone. In a nutshell, I abused it and there was a day I was asked to write a letter to someone, I had to use the pen.  Reluctantly I got a paper and a pen, the first attempt I made to pen down a word was so disheartening, I couldn’t get the words right because even if I make mistakes on my laptop, the Autocorrect feature will do the needful, so I missed most of the spellings in the letter I wrote. After that incident I limit the amount of attention I give to my laptop when it comes to writing, I only work and shut it down when I’m done. 

    This is my experience and I hope you find it interesting.

    • Your experience is very interesting.  As you discovered, it’s very easy to become dependent on the computer to make all necessary corrections.  Research shows that our brains function differently when we think and type on a keyboard versus think and write with pen and paper.  Our brains get much more benefit from the paper and pen activity.  It’s crazy to think our schools have spent years trying to do away with the activity that is superior to brain development in favor of the inferior computer.

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation and sharing your experience.  I appreciate it!


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