Screen Time

February 5, 2017

BW photograph of a person sitting in a hotel courtyard using a cell phone.

Copyright 2017 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Today, the TED Radio Hour continued its series entitled “Screen Time“.  Journalist Jon Ronson’s interview and TED Talk are an important lesson in the legacy of social media and online activity.  While I would highly recommend listening to each of the stories presented though Parts I and II,  Mr. Ronson’s points are the focus of this particular post.

According to an article in The New York Times,  “…children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012.”  It is useful to read through the entire article so as to become familiar with the issues of such a young start as well as the guidelines for making such technology available for use.

Biologically speaking, the age of onset of smartphone use is especially critical because of the connection between neuromaturation and the maturation of judgment.  Essentially, the frontal lobe of the brain is our seat of reasoning, judgment, planning, and critical thinking, which are the so-called “executive functions”.  One particular application of these functions is the ability to predict the future consequences of our current behavior.  It takes many, many years beyond the age of 10 for the frontal lobe to be fully ready for such activity. (As an aside, it is also important to note the controversy that surrounds the type of research mentioned in that NIH report.  The text includes a discussion of those points.)

If children and young adults start using smartphones to engage in social media at age 10 or 12 or 15, they are doing so at a point where the biological mechanisms of judgment and impulse control are not fully engaged.  By way of contrast, the social pressures to interact online most certainly are.  Achieving social acceptance is a critical developmental task for this age group, and the desire to be “liked” now has a concrete measure in various social media platforms.  As such, folks are habituated to interacting online well before the brain may have fully developed the ability to assess potential problems with what is posted.  For some, as Mr. Ronson so carefully articulates, what is posted becomes the reality.

Take care.










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