If Screen Time is Bad, Why Video-Based Curriculum?

September 12, 2023

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Today's question says, "I have heard you talk a number of times about the dangerous effects of screen usage on children, especially young children. If you believe excessive screen time is dangerous, why do you create video-based curriculums?"


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "I have heard you talk a number of times about the dangerous effects of screen usage on children, especially young children. If you believe excessive screen time is dangerous, why do you create video-based curriculums?" That is such a great question, and it's one that I'm actually super excited to answer because everything we do here at Foundation Worldview is very purposeful. So I'm looking forward to giving you a sneak peek into just a little bit of the behind the scenes here at Foundation Worldview.

Now, before we dive down deep into answering this question, I would ask that if you have found the content of this podcast beneficial that you would like and subscribe to make sure that you never miss a future episode, I would also ask that you would invest the time in writing a review so that others can find this content and we can equip as many adults as possible to get the kids in their care thinking critically and biblically.

Now, for the person who wrote this question in, they've heard me speak on multiple occasions just about the different factors that neuroscientists, sociologists and psychologists have found that make screen usage dangerous for children. And so the three main factors that I talk about and that scientists have discovered is the hindrance of brain development, the chemical addiction that screen usage causes, and the isolation. So we're going to look at these three effects of screen usage on children and then what we do at Foundation Worldview and whether or not there are the same dangers with the kind of curriculum that we create.

So the first danger is just hindering brain development that neuroscientists have found that consistent screen usage for entertainment purposes that involves no in-person human interaction. What it does is its circumnavigates the synapses in the prefrontal cortex in the brain. And so the prefrontal cortex is the reasoning portion of the brain and also the portion of the brain that's in control of executive functioning. So like organization, time management, self-control, impulse control, those kind of things. And so when children replace human interactions with screen interactions that are solely based for the purpose of entertainment, they're not using this prefrontal cortex, the reasoning part of their brain. And then after a while after those neurological connections, the synapses in that region of the brain are no longer used for a long period of time. What the brain does is the brain actually prunes away those connections to make room for the connections that are used a lot.

So consistent screen usage really hinders brain development. The second problem is chemical addiction. That video games, YouTube or any type of shows, movies and social media are all pre-programmed to give dopamine hits at certain time. And now dopamine is a pleasure chemical. It's a chemical that is pleasurable to us as humans. So we want our brains to get hits of dopamine, and it's very easy to get addicted to dopamine hits. And so many of the companies that are creating these videos and these games and these apps, they actually have neuroscientists on staff who know the exact right time to program in dopamine hits to create chemical addictions. And so they're not doing this willy nilly or haphazardly. There's actually a science behind it. And now the dangerous thing about this is when our children are consistently receiving these hits of dopamine, like in a video game or in a TV show or on a social media app, the brain is flooded with too much dopamine.

Now, we really like that feeling when our dopamine receptors are absorbing all of that dopamine. It feels really good for us. But what happens is our brains, were not designed naturally to get the amount of dopamine that is given when we participate in a video game or a fast moving show or a social media app. And so when our brains are flooded with that much dopamine, what happens is our brains say, "okay, this is too much dopamine". So the dopamine receptors either shrink or are killed off. Now, this is the exact same thing that happens with drug usage. This is why drug usage is so addictive because it's this rush of dopamine. But then as the dopamine cells are killed, the dopamine receptors are killed off. You constantly need a larger and larger amount of dopamine to get the same feeling. So that's why drug addicts need more and more intense doses of the drug to get the same high.

And the same thing is happening to our children. And as I've mentioned in previous podcasts, that addiction to these forms of media, especially video gaming, is more intense than a cocaine addiction. Sorry, I don't know why I said that. Wrong. Cocaine addiction, as I've mentioned in previous podcasts, we recommend that you check out the organization ScreenStrong for more information on how you can help break these chemical addictions that your children may already have to some of these screen-based forms of entertainment.

Then the third main problem with screen-based entertainment is isolation. That most of these forms of screen-based entertainment involve little to no in-person human interaction. Every once in a while, a group of kids might be gaming together or they might be gaming with a friend online, and then you can hear them, you can hear their voice in your headphones, but you're not actually in person with them, which that's the type of friendship that really causes humans, us as humans, to flourish.

So this isolation from all of these screen-based forms of entertainment leads to a failure to develop proper social skills and leads to a higher risk of unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Now, don't mishear me. I'm not saying that simply because a kid is on screens, they will automatically be depressed. That's not what I'm saying. But researchers have found that there's a direct correlation between how much time kids spend on screen-based entertainment and their levels or their risk of unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and suicide. So these are three big risks, hindering brain development, chemical addiction, and all the negative effects of isolation. So then the question is, "okay, Foundation Worldview, if you know that screen-based entertainment has these negative effects on kids, why do you create video-based curriculum?". So let me explain. As a teacher, those of you who have followed our ministry for a while, you know that I spent the first decade of my professional career in a classroom as a teacher teaching third graders at a Christian school.

And one thing I found in the classroom is anytime I was asked to teach a subject that I was not comfortable with, I tried to avoid that subject, maybe save it for the end of the day, because I was very, very nervous teaching that subject. One of the subjects I was most nervous about teaching was spelling. I grew up under the whole language regime, which was basically, "oh, kids don't need to learn phonics. They don't need to learn the letter sounds. They don't need to learn how to decode words. They don't need to learn how to spell. Just put 'em in a text rich environment, a place where there's tons of books, and they'll figure it out on their own". Well, some kids figured it out. I didn't. My mom had to teach me how to read at home, but one thing I was never taught was spelling.

So when I first started teaching, I was a terrible speller, and I didn't know how to teach our school spelling curriculum because we actually taught the six different syllable types and how they were used. And so I needed somebody to actually come alongside me and teach the spelling for a year for me, model it for me, so that then I could learn. And before that person came alongside me, I would always save spelling for the end of the day and think, maybe we won't have time for it because I was so nervous. What if the kids ask me a question that I don't know? Or what if I answer a question incorrectly and I ruin their ability to spell? So I knew when creating these curriculums for Foundation Worldview that we're covering topics in theology, worldview and apologetics, which most parents don't have time to sit down and become experts in.

So I thought if we create video-based curriculums where I actually do the teaching, that way parents can have the confidence to implement these materials with their kids even if they have no background in this subject. And so that's why we decided to create video-based curriculums that we could do the parents a favor by teaching the course for them. And if any parents don't know a lot of these things, they can even learn alongside their child. Now the question still remains. "Yeah, but what about those dangers of screens, the brain development, the chemical addiction, and the isolation?". Well, when we create our videos, we don't do it willy nilly. We don't think like, okay, how can we get this done most quickly? We think, okay, what is going to be best for the children? So we actually purposely design each of our video-based curriculums in a way that avoids these three pitfalls.

So first hindering brain development. We craft the content in a way that engages kids not through fast moving action that's going to entertain them and leave the reasoning portion, the prefrontal cortex out of the picture. What we do is we purposely have the camera up pretty close to my face so that the kids feel like they're making eye contact with me, and they're engaged through my facial expressions and the eye contact. They're not entertained through lots of fast movement. What we constantly ask ourselves as we're developing new curriculum and we're reviewing the videos, we ask ourselves, is this Mr. Rogers or is this Sesame Street? Because those of you who have seen these two shows, Mr. Rogers is very slow moving and it's calm, and it's all based on having a relationship with Mr. Rogers and feeling like you can trust him and that he loves you and he wants what's best for you.

Where Sesame Street is all fast moving entertainment, they switch back and forth between sketches every 15 to 45 seconds, and there's lots of loud noises and colors and things that come in on the screen. And so if the answer to the question is, this is Sesame Street, we get rid of what we're doing and change it so that it becomes Mr. Rogers. And so we ask this question and we purposely implement activities in the curriculum that stimulate multiple regions of the brain and promote healthy brain development. One thing that we have kids do a lot is we have them draw pictures or symbols to represent things that they've been learning. And so I know probably a lot of people are thinking, "oh my goodness, do we have to do another art activity?". Well, no, we didn't include that in the curriculum as an art activity.

But what brain researchers have found is that when children have to present information in a way that doesn't involve language, if they have to, to develop some sort of symbol or picture to represent it, multiple regions of the brain are stimulated, therefore helping them understand the concept at a deeper level and ingraining it in their long-term memory. So we're not just like, oh, let's do a fun picture activity. We're thinking, no, this is what's going to be best for their brain development. If we have them create a non-linguistic, so non-word representation of this concept, it's going to stimulate different regions of their brain and help make sure that that is ingrained in their long-term memory. So we completely avoid any hindrance of the development of the prefrontal cortex, and instead, implement activities that are going to stimulate the growth of multiple regions of the brain.

Second thing, the chemical addiction. We purposely in our videos leave out any graphics or actions that would lead to a dopamine hit. In fact, as I am recording this podcast, I just got finished reviewing all of the videos for our next curriculum, our "Attributes of God" curriculum for kids four on up. And when I received the first video from our video crew, there was this one graphic that was a star that was flying really quick in front of the screen. I knew that that would be a dopamine hit for kids. I told our video team, we need to take that star out. I know that it's engaging, I know that it's exciting, but what it's going to do is it's going to give the brain a hit of dopamine and continue building this chemical addiction. So we need to take it out. And so we actually have, at certain points, received criticism from people who have implemented our curriculum saying, oh, the videos, they just don't compare to what my kids are seeing on YouTube. They're just not as engaged. And we say, we know, and it's for a purpose. We are actually trying to help retrain a child's brain to be engaged with eye contact with a person rather than just being entertained by fast moving objects that are going to give dopamine hits. So in our videos, we are actually helping to retrain the brain away from this chemical addiction.

And then the third problem is isolation, that screens cause that isolation. Every single one of our teaching videos requires human discussion and adult interaction. So there's always a point where the children are turning and talking to the adult that is with them, or if they're in a classroom setting to another child who is there with them. And this was another thing that when we created the first curriculum Foundation Comparative Worldview curriculum, and we had people review it, a number of people came back with the feedback saying, parents would like this a lot more if it was just a half hour video that they could play for their kids, and they could get a half hour of free time while their kids just watch this video. And we thanked those people for their feedback. That said, that really goes against our philosophy that screen time really leads to isolation. We're trying to help develop stronger family relationships and help parents engage with their kids as they're covering these concepts of truth.

So these three things, these three main problems, hindering brain development, chemical addictions, and isolations, those are all things that we directly avoid in our curriculum. So I know some of you watching and listening, you may not have cared to know this much information about the process behind why we do what we do. However, I hope that I've given you these three things that you can look for in any form of media. Is this going to hinder my child's brain development? Is it going to cause a chemical dopamine addiction? And does it cause isolation? Are they doing this on their own without any human interaction?

And then it can help us parse out what media is, media that's going to create these harmful effects, and what media is media that avoids these. When we think about FaceTiming with a family member, if you have extended family members that live across the country or even across the world, FaceTime doesn't do any of those things. It doesn't hinder the brain development because it's not just about entertainment. It doesn't provide dopamine hits, and it doesn't lead to isolation. It actually leads to connection with a family member or a loved one who's not able to be seen on a regular basis. So if we can just ask ourselves these questions about brain development, chemical addiction, and isolation, that can be really great guidance for us as we consider the forms of media that we allow our children to engage in.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. But as always, as we leave this time together, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of his son. I'll see you next time.

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