Screen dangers
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2019 - 12:00am

The official arrival of summer signals the time of year when the majority of the population is expected to have the most physical activity. But this may only be a panacea. For most of the year, millions of Filipino children are trapped in front of a screen, wasting their youth, mindlessly scrolling their young lives away. Now, more and more dangers of prolonged exposure to screens are coming to light. A digital device, whether we deny it or accept it, is not a suitable nanny. There are just too many ill effects to ignore.

Up to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, students spent their entire scholastic lives without touching a computer. That decade was when the first home computers were marketed in this part of the world. At the same time, MTV was born, becoming the generic term for “music video” just as Xerox supplanted “photocopy”. These two introductions caused a seismic shift in how the world consumed its entertainment.

At first, the home computers were big and unwieldy. The tubes, screen, computer and keyboard were all in one piece. The hard drive, though separate, was heavy and noisy. The first chess program, Sargon, took two hours to make a move. After two moves, it would overheat and shut down. Not very appealing for restless youngsters. Games like Pong and Space Invaders, which featured flat, lateral or diagonal movement, were considered state of the art.

By the end of the 1980’s, schools had computer classes in Grade 5. MTV, with its mind-frazzling speed of editing, were the new short form for video makers. Like TV ads, they were designed to be watched multiple times. Today, Grade 1 students already have weekly computer classes.

What is the fundamental impact on children’s health? Firstly, the human eye was built to move about five to six times a second. Yes, a second. When watching, the eyes only move one to two times a second. This already causes a strain. Secondly, since a screen is at a fixed distance, it forces the eye to strain to stay at that focus, another physical harm. Third, any editing dictates your point of view and experience of something, which causes subliminal harm. In other words, your experience is being dictated to you.

In a recent study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, it was found that thousands of children who studied between the ages of two to five spent two to three hours in front of a screen each day. Sheri Madigan, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Calgary in Canada, and her team followed 2,441 mothers and their children enrolled in the All Our Families study, which studied kids from ages two until five. Mom recorded how much time their children spent in front of a television or computer screen daily, and also reported on developmental measures by answering questions about their offsprings’ communication skills, behavior and social interactions. The data was collected when the children were two years old, then again when they were three and five. The impact of excessive screen time was poorer mental development, as well as wasted opportunities for learning. 

“The results show that there is a lasting influence of screen time, especially when children are two to five years old, when their brains are undergoing a period of tremendous development,” said Madigan. “When a child is watching a screen, he or she is missing out on the opportunity for walking, talking and interacting with others.”

Parents, therefore, have a huge responsibility to limit their children’s viewing to an hour or less each day. Children will follow what Mom and Dad say. If we tell them to write or draw, and more importantly, if we play with them, we will create new connections in their brains, and imprint indelible memories in their hearts. It is hard, more so when both parents work. But there is no way around it. Abdication of our obligation to be with them in their most vulnerable time leaves them vulnerable and weak when they get older. Let’s not make them pay the price for our neglect.

Let’s get our children into sports.

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