Screen exposure is eroding children’s creativity and perhaps ours too.
When Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was asked what his kids thought about the iPhone, he said, “The kids don’t use it. We don’t allow it in the home.”
And before you think that was an atypical tech titan response, a school in the Bay Area of San Francisco is almost entirely tech-free. It’s called the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, and it doesn’t allow iPhones, iPads, computers, etc. The school says that 75 percent of the kids there have parents who are tech execs in Silicon Valley.
So, what is it about screens that some of the wealthiest innovators in the world don’t want their kids exposed to?
We are told that the prophet Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint the next King of Israel. As he arrived, he looked at seven handsome young men, all of whom appeared ready to be king. But the one that God had chosen was not the one Samuel would have expected.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).
So what was it about David that was preparing him to lead better than his brothers? The details we know show us that he spent a great deal of time in nature caring for animals and using his creativity to write and play music.
WISDOM: OLD AND NEW
Speaking about character development, Ellen White, who wrote a lot about best practices for raising children and educating them, says that Adam and Eve in Eden were given “the occupation most favorable to development—the care of plants and animals” (Education, p. 43).
White also posits the radical idea that “the only schoolroom for children from eight to ten years of age should be in the open air, amid the opening flowers and nature’s beautiful scenery. And their only textbook should be the treasures of nature” (Christian Education, p. 9).
Caring for plants and animals and spending inordinate amounts of time in the outdoors sounds revolutionary in a world of gadgets. So what’s the concern with screens? “I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts, and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict,” says Nicholas Kardaras, author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids.
Kardaras is one of the country’s top addiction experts. In his book, he details how compulsive technology usage and reliance on screens can neurologically damage the developing brain of a child the same way that drug addiction can. Through extensive research, clinical trials with diagnosed screen addicts, and experience treating a variety of other types of addicts, the author explores the alarming reality of how children could be “stunting their creative abilities” by constantly turning on and tuning in.1
If you’re a parent or prospective one, that last line should arrest your attention. Could screen time in those formative years be stunting the life potential of a child? The answer seems to be yes.
Why is creativity so important? A study from Oxford University predicts 47 percent of jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation in the next twenty years. We need to make sure our children have a competitive advantage or even fighting chance to survive and thrive in the coming years in the global workforce. If automation is threatening half of our jobs, what will be the skill that sets us apart? Mark Cuban, American entrepreneur and billionaire, seems to believe that “employers will soon be on the hunt for candidates who excel at creative and critical thinking.”2
Parenting in today’s world is no easy task. When the stresses of life are pressing in on all sides, it’s just so easy to hand a child a smartphone or tablet and let them entertain themselves. Take video games, for example; do we know what is going on in that
Kadaras says, “With video games, however, the kid sits and plays for hours of adrenal-elevated fightor-flight. It is not a good thing. Research has shown that this latest generation of games significantly raises dopamine levels, the key neurotransmitter
associated with our pleasure and reward pathways and the key neurotransmitter in addiction dynamics. One study showed that video games raise dopamine to the same degree that sex does, and almost as much as cocaine does. So, this combo of adrenaline and dopamine are a potent one-two punch with regards to addiction.”3
GOD’S SEAL—OR LUCIFER’S
And we all know the scenario too well. We see a kid who is so addicted to screens or games that they would rather enjoy their digital world than the real one. “The reason why this effect is more powerful on children than adults—although we all know of many adults who are screen-addicted—is that children still don’t have a fully-developed frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls executive
functioning, decision-making, and impulse control.”4
Neuropsychologists now understand that the frontal cortex is the filter and command center that determines how we view the world and how we determine right and wrong. It’s also the place where emotional intelligence is determined. Research has discovered that this part of the brain doesn’t develop until our early 20s, and it may not fully develop until our mid to late 20s.5
I find that interesting because, in ancient Israel, a man could not be a priest until the age of 30.
“Research shows that both drug use and excessive screen usage actually stunts the frontal cortex and reduces the grey matter in that part of the brain. So hyper-arousing games create a double whammy. Not only are they addicting, but then addiction perpetuates
itself by negatively impacting the part of the brain that can help with impulsivity and good decision making.”6
Often in Scripture, we find references to the forehead. God is putting his seal or mark there, or Lucifer is putting his mark there. The underlying concept is really talking about the pre-frontal cortex (i.e. the frontal lobe). It is the seat of judgment, morality, and character, in addition to creativity and critical thinking.
“The people of God are sealed in their foreheads,” writes Ellen White. “It is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved” (Maranatha, p. 200).
As we pass the baton of hope to the next generation, let’s be as innovative as possible, even if that means we need to go back to the future.
5 Arain, M.; Haque, M.; Johal, L., et al. “Maturation of the Adolescent Brain.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.
This article originally appeared in Adventist Review online, April 18, 2017.