Ah, the age-old question: Should kids have cell phones? Most experts agree that, in an ideal world, kids wouldn’t have unfettered access to the internet or social media until around high school, hence the increasingly popular movement to Wait Until 8th.
But it’s not just the odd brush with porn, confidence-crushing FOMO and cyber bullying that should concern parents. The dangers to kids overusing screens in any capacity are real. According to a federal government study by the NIH, 9- and 10-year-olds who spend more than seven hours a day on screens—which is not all that unusual, BTW—showed premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that processes sensory input. But even if their daily screen use is cut down to the American Academy of Pediatrics–approved two hours, studies show this could still lower kids’ scores on thinking and language tests.
Finally, blowing a hole through the marketing of “educational” apps and streaming shows for kids, the AAP recently released a different study declaring that screen-based learning, particularly when it comes to math and language acquisition, “is most effective in school settings, where educators and fellow students can scaffold and support active and repetitive practice of skills.” Hm. That doesn’t sound like Fortnite.
Moreover, the study raises questions about what value screen time adds to kids’ lives, “particularly when one considers the educational value of what [screens] may be displacing, such as free play, creativity, experiencing nature or interacting with parents, siblings and friends.” It’s not simply that screens are “bad.” It’s that our kids’ free time is finite. Their attention is a precious resource, and it matters how they spend it.