Does looking at screens rot your brain?

...or give you square eyes? An expert and a young person share their points of view.

Tech and the online world
By Parent Zone ·

Anna

Anna is a recent graduate from University of the Arts London where she studied communications with media. She works in social media marketing and content creation for Parent Zone.

Does looking at screens rot your brain?

The optician pulled a face at the board of letters in front of me. ‘Looks like you need glasses’, he said. I was confused. Bad eyesight didn’t run in my family and here I was straining at the blurred x, y and z at the bottom of the board. Turns out one of my eyes had changed shape, causing a decrease in my vision and yet another demand on my bank account. The reason, the optician explained, was fall the staring at a screen.

So perhaps I should be a screen critic. But aside from my need to fork out for some trendy specs, I struggle to see any other disadvantages. Screens are great. I can connect, search, learn and communicate whenever I want. A breadth of knowledge at my fingertips, just waiting to be explored, consumed, and passed on.

There is a widespread fear of the screen, particularly among people who have had to adapt to them instead of grow up with them, as Dr Przybylski says. But if it wasn’t for screens, I wouldn’t have passed my degree. I wouldn’t have been able to contact my favourite authors when I was younger to tell them how much I loved them. I wouldn’t have laughed at memes and internet trends or been able to catch up on world news in real time. I wouldn’t have been able to keep in contact with my closest friends or learn about extinct marine life from YouTube videos. Among all the tales of how screens are damaging, their amazing ability to expand your mind has been forgotten.

How much time you spend on a screen isn’t important. OK, perhaps it’s not such a good idea to watch 20 episodes of Friends just before you go to bed - but that sort of behaviour isn’t the screen’s fault, it’s our own. In my opinion, looking after ourselves and learning how much screen time works for us is a better approach to take than banning devices or using punishment if your kid has spent an extra ten minutes on an iPad.

I agree with Dr Przybylski. The main dangers of screens have nothing to do with how much you use them. They come from what we choose to do on them - which is why it’s so important to be resilient and alert to what we see online.

At the end of the day, screens aren't going away. They’re an important part of our lives, and I think they should be embraced instead of feared. After all, who wants to go back to walking miles to a phone box to tell your mum you’ll be late for tea?

Professor Andrew Przybylski

Professor Przybylski’s work mainly focuses on applying models of motivation and health to study how people interact with virtual environments.

Screen time: why you shouldn’t worry

How many times have you heard that spending time on a screen is bad for you? That it will rot your brain, or make your eyes go square? Perhaps you’ve read a scary article or argued with your parents about that extra hour of chatting to friends before bed.

In reality, screens aren’t as bad as everyone thinks. Negative attitudes and flawed research have led to lots of unhelpful advice. Screen time is everywhere, and screens contain much of what we need to function each day, much as oxygen keeps our systems going.

As a young person, you’re what many would call a ‘digital native’ - in other words, you grew up with digital tech. It wasn’t introduced to you as a new thing, like it was for many adults. This means you’re probably more in tune with screens than adults are. You connect, search and communicate using screens all the time - and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Not all adults are suspicious of screens. Many are just as enthusiastic about them as most young people. Some though, feel less confident with them - and that’s perfectly natural. They might even see the device in your hand as alien, or intimidating.

One of the most common myths is that screen time inevitably causes problems. But 99.75 per cent of how happy we are has nothing to do with how much time we spend on a screen. Other things are much more important. Friendships, school or work, food, even the weather, all contribute to your emotional wellbeing - even if you don’t notice.

The fact that lots of us spend five hours a week on social media doesn’t necessarily mean we’re heading for damaged relationships or mental health problems. The harm comes from the content we consume, not the amount of time we spend on a screen. We need to teach ourselves to be digitally resilient and self-aware about the stuff we see online - and to know where to go if we have seen something worrying.

Taking screens away isn’t necessarily the answer, especially as our devices are a lifeline for all kinds of issues - questions of identity, sexuality, self-expression and relationships. These are exactly the kinds of concerns you might be having as a young person.

If your parents are worried about screens, you could show them this article - but I’d also encourage you to share a little piece of your online world with them. Tell them what you enjoy doing online and ask what they’re into too. You might even find some common ground.

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Does looking at screens rot your brain?

So, what do you think?