Screens and Yells and Bites and Kicks

Children on mobile devices

"It rots the senses in the mind!

It kills Imagination dead!

It clogs and clutters up the mind!

It makes the child so dull and blind!


He can no longer understand

A fairytale, a fairyland!

His brain becomes as soft as cheese!

His powers of thinking rust and freeze!

He cannot think -- he only sees!"


Above you'll find Roald Dahl's observations about television, as articulated by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's chorus of Oompa Loompas. When Dahl wrote those words in 1964, television and the way it was transforming family life in general, and children's behavior in particular, were already sources of great concern. As engaging as television is as a medium, today's children have access to media that are far more engaging, engrossing, and immersive, creating an addictive draw that is difficult to resist -- so difficult that in the United States, the average child spends approximately seven hours per day in front of a screen.


You might be inclined to argue that today's children enjoy higher quality media than did children in the 1960s, and perhaps that's true, but think about what your children sacrifice when they're glued to their tablet, telephone, or TV. They sacrifice time for play. They are not engaged with others, nor are they developing their social or linguistic skills. They cannot savor the sweet scent of a well-loved book or enjoy the immersive sensory experience of playing an instrument that requires engagement of hands, eyes, ears, and mind. Their creativity is never prodded from slumber by boredom, and they do not enjoy the opportunity to visit the wonderlands that exist only in the minds of the young. Nevertheless, their willingness to believe is exploited, as they are bombarded by advertisements they do not yet have the capacity to recognize as such. Furthermore, excessive screen time has been strongly linked to a variety of harms, including 

  • obesity,
  • behavioral difficulties,
  • attention deficits and impulsiveness,
  • poor sleep,
  • aggression,
  • poor social skills,
  • and a loss of interest in play.

A bit of screen time, especially when shared with your children, is unlikely to do any harm ... but unhurried time to explore the outdoors, hours whiled away with friends and family, and innumerable moments spent in the company of a fine book are a positive good. They are the stuff of the sepia-toned memories we treasure as adults. I have no more time to write today, so I will leave you by returning to Dahl's Oompa Loompas:


"So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, 
Go throw your [screen device] away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine." 

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