Screen Time Can’t Be Worse Than My Dangerous Childhood

Screen Time Cannot Be Worse Than My Dumb And Dangerous Childhood

Whatever you do on a screen, you can’t light it on fire

We actually lit garbage cans on fire

Amma, stop reading.

When I was a kid we were bored all the time, so we lit shit on fire and did all kinds of dangerous stuff. The hypothetical dangers of screen time are nothing compared to this. Statistics show that young people today drink less and have sex later, but that’s not my point. I’ll just talk about my life. Screen time could not possibly be worse than the dumb, dangerous, and explosive shit I did when I was young.

This is a brief and non-exhaustive list of things that I have done growing up in suburban Ohio, before screen time:

  • Arson
  • Shoplifting
  • Attempted cow-tipping
  • Teepeeing
  • Stealing street signs
  • Dumpster diving
  • Being bitten by raccoons in dumpsters
  • Every drug possible

Please tell me how ‘being stuck in my room all day’ could have been worse than all this. If my parents knew, they would have been thrilled to keep me in my room. Instead our parents told us to ‘go outside’ and outside was boring, unless it was on fire. AMMA STOP READING.

I find it curious that many parents don’t seem to remember their own demented childhoods. I was a nerdy, ‘good’, kid and I was still up to all kinds of mischief. God knows what the ‘bad’ kids were up to. We didn’t have Grand Theft Auto, instead we stole chromies off car wheels. All of them. Nobody could keep a shiny valve cap in Riverpark.

I think people have forgotten what boredom feels like. Today we have that itch of nothing interesting to do, but we’ve forgotten what nothing at all feels like. This feeling consumed my childhood. This led to stuff like combing dumpsters, for entertainment. Once we found a broken TV, took it to the abandoned quarry and lit it on fire. Why? I don’t know. We were bored. Another time we found a raccoon stuck there, tried to help them out, and got nipped for our good deeds. Whatever you do on a computer, it’s not going to give you rabies.

Oh the poor animals in the neighborhood. We spent hours trying to catch a duck. Once we did we didn’t know what to do. The duck just flapped furiously and shat itself, it was awful. Why did we do this? We were bored. As teenagers we even tried out cow-tipping, which basically doesn’t work because you have to find a cow. I don’t know if the tipping part works, we never found a cow.

Young people just wouldn’t do this shit today. They have better thing to do. Why would you drive around looking for cows when you could look at pictures of your classmates on Instagram, or play Minecraft, or make dance videos? How cool. The best we had was dancing in front of the mirror by ourselves, or maybe playing video games with our friends. It’s amazing how those activities have scaled, into TikTok and Twitch. This is in every possible way a better world. It doesn’t involve a duck shitting themselves, for one.

People say that kids are rotting their brains and not getting outside, but do you know what we were doing outside? We were lighting our mom’s perfume on fire, right on the stoop. Whatever you do online, at least it doesn’t leave burn marks in front of your door. Of course kids can join terrorist groups like the Republican Party, or be groomed online, but that stuff was happening anyways, only IRL. It’s not that being online is necessarily safe but, by God, at least it’s not flammable.

Then of course there were the drugs. We rigorously pursued any altered state because our normal state was so boring. The first time I had liquor I had eight shots of Absolut Vodka. I was 15 years old and weighed maybe 100 pounds, it’s a wonder I didn’t end up in hospital. This was very bad and very dangerous. You might say the other stuff is at least outdoors, but bored young adults move very quickly to wrecking their bodies. People now do this less. I’m not saying this is because of screen time, but that at least cuts the boredom. Since I left school, underage drinking has significantly declined, I think at least partly because kids can find digitally altered states without physically obliterating their brains. This is a blessing.

Doing drugs at that age was bad, and I’m lucky it didn’t end up worse. We basically did anything we could get our hands on. We snorted fucking Pixie Sticks (colored sugar). Once I did chewing tobacco before a Rowing Meeting, threw up in my mouth, couldn’t leave, and had to just swallow it. What the fuck were we thinking? If I had a smartphone with one app on it I would not have done these things. And I was lucky that I grew up before the opiate crisis, or we would have been fucked for life. If someone put Oxy in front of me I would have done it. Kids today can at least say no, I have to stay sharp for Fortnite. You can’t just say no and do nothing. They have something to do.

Hence I think all the fretting about screen time is overblown. Millenials especially are idealizing a childhood that never existed and which they certainly didn’t have. Being bored didn’t build our characters, it just built carelessness. Staring at a screen all day may reduce your eyesight, but if you toss canisters of WD-40 in a canister and light the whole thing on fire, you can lose an actual eye.

People also talk about the social pressure of social media, but do you remember walking down a high school hallway? I had acne and I was painfully aware of anyone that sat on my right or left side (depending where the pimple was). A young person’s world is very small and very often suffocating, regardless of technology. While there are absolutely ills you can get from technology, it’s not in any way clear that they’re worse. They’re just different.

We are comparing screen time to an ideal book-reading, wood-working child who has never existed. Childhood and young adulthood can be a pretty concerted attempt to maim yourself, and we’re lucky to contain those tendencies on a screen. Are there bad things about all screen time? Absolutely. But it’s not as bad as Absolut Vodka. My only point is that it could not be worse.