It’s early Saturday morning. Ten-year-old Henry Hailey, in his PJs, plays a popular video game. His microphone-equipped headphones glow blue in the darkness.
“What?! Right as I was about to finish it, I died,” he says to a friend playing the game just blocks away. “Dude, I should NOT have died.”
The digital battle resumes. Henry’s enthusiasm never wanes. Would he play all day if his parents let him? “Probably,” he admits.
Do electronic screens “master” some folks? Many would answer yes. Sinful humans—even Christians—often defend whatever they want to do by claiming, “All things are lawful to me.” The apostle Paul did not deny this. It means that the things a Christian does won’t negate God’s salvation by grace in Christ—for the true believer. But Paul does respond, “But not all things are helpful.” The believer’s priority is living for and with Jesus. So Paul warns against being “dominated (mastered) by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Would you take a break from electronics if you knew that staring at a video game, cellphone, or laptop harmed your brain? That’s certainly “not helpful”! New research on kids and screen time might convince you.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health studied brain scans of 4,500 nine- and 10-year-olds. They found that the brains of those who ogled screens for extended periods were different from the brains of those who didn’t. The oglers’ brains were thinning, that is, aging like old people’s.
Researcher Gaya Dowling led the study. She isn’t 100% sure the thinning came from screen time. More research must be done. Still, the results were troubling.
Researcher Dimitri Christakis says “the architecture of the brain” changes in the first years of life. It develops “in direct response to external stimulation,” electronic (we’re talking to you, Fortnite and Rocket League) . . . or otherwise. And kids aren’t the only ones at risk. Christakis says brain development continues until about age 25.
A survey by Common Sense Media found that 95% of U.S. teens have a mobile device. The devices often distract from homework. They—instead of actual people in the room—often get teens’ attention too. That regular distraction can lead to academic and social problems.
Experts say teens need to learn to manage time well. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the following:
—Limit time spent on electronic media. It should not interfere with sleep, physical activity, and social interaction.
—Create media-free zones, such as the dinner table, car, and bedroom.
Technology has benefits. Eliminating it probably isn’t possible—or good. Christakis sees the question as simple: “How do we extract the good . . . and minimize the bad?”