Screens and Sadness

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After I wrote the last post, I read the full text of the Kaiser report on media use by 8 to 18-year old children. The part describing the impact on learning and feelings was especially troubling. I know that there are many who do not buy the arguments I make in my book, based largely on psychology or philosophy, that technology has the potential to submerge one’s sense of worldliness and understanding of what it means to be human. The Kaiser study provides some convincing data that this danger is quire real. Here are the key findings.

Youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment.

For purposes of comparison, young people were grouped into categories of heavy, moderate and light media users. Heavy users are those who consume more than 16 hours of media content in a typical day (21% of all 8- to 18-year-olds); moderate users are those who consume from 3-16 hours of content (63%); light users are those who consume less than three hours of media in a typical day (17%).

Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower), compared to 23% of light media users. Heavy media users are also more likely to say they get into trouble a lot, are often sad or unhappy, and are often bored. Moreover, the relationships between media exposure and grades, and between media exposure and personal contentment, withstood controls for other possibly relevant factors such as age, gender, race, parent education, and single vs. two-parent households.

This study cannot establish whether there is a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades, or between media use and personal contentment. And if there are such relationships, they could well run in both directions simultaneously.

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