Originally written for CMNS 110 at Simon Fraser University.
As Marshall McLuhan once said, “we shape our tools and afterwards, our tools shape us”. Now, as we move into Generation Z, this is truer than ever. Generation Z is the set of people born between 2000 and 2020. It is also the first generation of children born directly into the world of screen time and social media. Because of this, we are beginning to see how the modern technology we have created is shaping us—both positively and negatively. More specifically, how is it negatively impacting the children of Generation Z? In this paper, I will be exploring the adverse effects that an early introduction to screen time and social media have on children. Specifically, I will be researching the physiological, psychological, and social impacts.
Although technology is still new in our society, we are already beginning to experience the negative impacts of it. Specifically, children are being physically affected by excessive hours of screen time. In China, a study was done on over 19,000 school-aged children to determine the relationship between technology use and sleep behavior. The study found that media use was “positively correlated with later bed times, later awakening times, and a shorter duration of sleep during weekdays and weekends” (Li). This correlation is most likely a result of the children’s melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain to regulate an individual’s sleep and wake patterns. As it becomes darker, the levels of melatonin in an individual’s brain rise and therefore cause the individual to fall asleep. However, it has been proven that after exposure to “self-luminous electronic devices”, our melatonin levels decrease (Figueiro). Therefore, when children use technology before bed, they are likely to have issues sleeping. Further evidence of the correlation between melatonin levels and screen time can be seen in a text by Aric Sigman. According to him, “researchers have recently reported that when children aged 6-12 were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average 30%” (Sigman). This further affirms the argument that screen time before bed negatively impacts children’s sleep. Screen time can also have a negative impact on children’s vision. According to Gary Heiting and Larry Wan, staring at a screen strains a child’s eyes because it forces the child’s “vision system” to focus more than any other task (Heiting). This can put children at a higher risk for developing vision problems.
In addition to the physical consequences, children also experience psychological consequences due to excessive screen use. According to a 2015 study by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, children are spending six hours a day consuming media (Willet). However, a majority of this time is spent on social media. Therefore, when talking about screen time, we are also talking about social media use. Nevertheless, both social media and other types of screen time have psychological effects on children. In 2016, the journal of Anxiety Disorders Association of America published a study that linked depression with social media use (Willet). In the researching world, they use the term “Facebook depression” to describe this phenomenon. Researchers define it as a depression that develops when children and adolescents spend a large portion of their time on social media sites, and then begin to exhibit symptoms of depression (O’Keeffe). This phenomenon may be a consequence of cyberbullying. According to Gwenn O’Keeffe, cyberbullying is defined as “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person”. Sadly, it has been proven that cyberbullying is the “most common online risk” for children and adolescents (O’Keeffe). If cyberbullying continues to be a problem for today’s youth, children will continue to develop mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. This will hinder their ability to live normal lives.
Finally, social media and screen time have an extremely adverse effect on children socially. Although technology was created to better connect our society, it has done the opposite for children. Children are becoming disconnected from their peers and their family because they are spending most of their time staring at a screen. According to Liraz Margalit, “the brain’s frontal lobe is the area responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions”. However, the frontal lobe goes through a critical developmental period during early childhood. Therefore, if children are spending their time on computers, tablets, and smart phones instead of interacting and building friendships, their social skills will be hindered. In addition to impacting friendship development, an early addiction to technology can have impacts on a child’s family relationships. Instead of communicating with their parents, children are immersing themselves in the online world. This is causing parents to feel disconnected from their children and vice versa. A study found that “children who spent considerable time on a popular social networking sites indicated that they felt less supported by their parents” (Taylor). If a parent-child relationship is unhealthy early on in a child’s life, it can have long-term consequences for a child socially. According to Lisa Firestone, the attachment style you develop as a child is based on “your relationship with a parent or early caretaker”. An attachment style is a psychological attempt to describe the dynamics of an individual’s short-term and long-term relationships. Usually, children who have healthy relationships with their parents at a young age will go on to have a healthy, secure attachment style. On the other hand, unhealthy parent-child relationships can lead to several unhealthy attachment styles, such as anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, and fearful avoidant (Firestone). Therefore, if a child does not develop a healthy relationship with their parents at a young age, their ability to develop healthy romantic and platonic relationships later in life will be severely impacted.
Although there is a plethora of negative impacts connected to screen time, social media and children, there are also many arguments in favor of technology use by children. For example, research has shown that “engaging in various forms of social media” is an activity shown to benefit children by “enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills” (O’Keeffe). What’s more, it allows children to engage in their community, build an individual identity, and increase their creativity. Because humans are social creatures, these skills are extremely important. They allow us to build relationships that are crucial to our social growth and mental health. Therefore, many people argue that screen time is an essential part of a child’s development. These people justify their opinion with research, like that done by Lauren Jelenchick, which found no link between social media use and clinical depression.
In the early days of modern technology, we saw our society as better connected and more advanced. But this was in a generation of adults who had just began to be introduced to it. Generation Z is the first generation to be born into the world of modern technology. As Generation Z grows, we are creating more humans who do not know a world without smartphones, tablets, and social media. Because of this, we are finally seeing the longer-term physiological, psychological, and social impacts that screen time and social media are having on children. Specifically, screen time and social media are taking a toll on their sleep, vision, mental health, and relationships. Although the negative impacts of technology have just recently begun to be a problem, if they are not fixed we could end up with a generation of adults who have more difficulty connecting socially due to their overreliance on technology. In addition, they will likely be more impacted my mental illness. Therefore, the time children spend on screens should be limited and monitored, so that the negative impacts of technology can be kept to a minimum.
Works cited provided below.
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