On the road back from Colorado last week, listening for signs of our puppy puking so I could catch it in a container, I also listened to a CD containing an interview with Dr. Arch Hart and his daughter, Dr. Sylvia Hart-Frejd, who together authored a book, “The Digital Invasion: How Technology is Shaping Your Relationships.”
Hart-Frejd related her own experience with her oldest son, who without her really understanding what was going on, became addicted to virtual life on gaming devices. Red flags began to go up when he no longer was interested in attending summer camp or participating in soccer or playing the drums. His virtual life had become more interesting than real life.
Hart said too much screen time can actually rewire the brain. From a positive perspective, the brain’s neuroplasticity enables it to be retrained in the event of a brain injury, but from what I believe is a negative side, the increased screen time, particularly gaming, can cause an increase in white brain cells, the cells that have to do with quick decision-making. Along with that comes a decrease in gray cells which handle the contemplative side of the brain. The excitement of the digital world causes a change in cortisol levels, which can bring about anxiety or depression, and a decrease in ocytocin reduces the ability to make attachments.
Studies in China, where use is even greater than in the United States, have shown teens addicted to virtual reality can suffer from digital dementia. In addition, younger children who spend too much time digitally, can display signs of attention deficit disorder. South Korea and Singapore has recovery centers for digital addiction, and these types of centers are appearing in the United States as well.
Hart talked about growing up in South Africa without a television or radio, facing the boredom that youth often experience. He created toys out of pieces of wood, built forts and took an interest in how transistor radios work. That boredom brought out his imagination, something that is lacking today when children digitally over-indulge.
Sound pretty bleak? Are the Harts against progress and responsible use of technology? I don’t think so. They do recommend getting a handle on the digital world by setting boundaries as a parent and boundaries for the children.
They recommend daily screen time as follows: zero screen time for ages 0-2, one hour a day for ages 3-5, 90 minutes for ages 6-12 and two hours for ages 13-19. Anyone in the last category would probably protest vehemently as they are generally on some type of device eight hours or more a day, but the Harts’ suggestion is to at least attempt to cut the time in half. Express to the child or teen the desire as a parent to have them reach their full potential as a person, to develop interests outside virtual reality.
They had a suggestion for Facebook, which does not allow anyone under 13 years of age to get an account. This is because Congress prohibits anyone getting information from Facebook users under 13. If children lie about their age, or worse yet, a parent lies for them, they are putting the child at risk.
It’s a rapidly changing world, particularly in the digital world. But it is here to stay and parents need to prepare themselves and their offspring for the ongoing invasion that can bring about change mentally, emotionally, relationally, even spiritually, and not always for the good. The Harts believe in the future there will be a mix of human and machine intelligence, which sounds like dangerous ground. I repeat their question, “Is this really what God intended for his creation of mankind?”