We’re willing to bet you know exactly where your phone is right now–chances are you’re using it to read this blog. We spend more time on our devices to work, communicate, and enjoy downtime more than ever before. Each day, the average American spends more than 7 hours looking at a screen; of those hours, more than 2 hours are spent on social media. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 31% of US adults claim to go online “almost constantly,” an increase of 10% from 2015.
While devices have certainly bettered our lives, too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing. Adults who spend an excessive amount of time on their screens may experience eye strain, poor sleep and mental health issues. Researchers have found a definitive increased risk for mood disorders, obesity and sleeping problems in children and teens who spend too much time on their screens.
How Much is Too Much?
If your job requires time spent looking at a screen, those hours don’t count toward your daily allotment. After you clock out for the day, screen time should be limited to less than 2 hours. If you find yourself with extra freetime, exports suggest using it to participate in physical activity instead. At the very least, take steps toward having a healthier relationship with your screens by designating at least 3 to 4 hours a day to be completely unplugged.
Time Versus Content
Because of the potentially negative effects, the phrase “screen time” has earned a negative connotation, however, experts believe the quality of the content on your screen is more important than the time you spend.
“The content you’re consuming actually matters more than the overall time you spend on your phone,” said Yalda T. Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor of psychology at UCLA and former movie executive who studies the health effects of screen time.
All screen time cannot be judged equally because watching a documentary is far less likely to affect your health like mindlessly scrolling through social media could. If you aren’t sure if your screen time is considered excessive, consider the quality of your sleep, diet, work, physical activity, and social time. If you feel like one or more of those could be improved in your life, you may need to change your screen time habits.
How Screen Time is Draining Your Battery
Spending an excessive amount of time on your phone, tablet, or computer could be affecting you more than you realize.
- Mental Health: Adults who spent 6 hours or more per day watching screens had a higher risk for depression and limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day could lead to a "significant improvement in well-being,” according to 2 studies.
- Sleep Issues: When you’re staring at a screen up until you turn off the lights to go to bed, your brain has already received signals from your screen to stay awake. Researchers at UCSF Health found that looking at a screen within an hour of going to sleep negatively affects both sleep quality and duration.
- Vision: The glare and bright light omitted from your screens can cause fatigue, discomfort, dimmed vision, and eye strain that can lead to headaches.
- Addiction: Researchers believe humans may be able to develop an addiction to their phones and social media. Thinking about it constantly, craving using it, and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they’re not able to use it.
- Physical Discomfort: Looking down at a phone can place strain on the neck, shoulders, and back. Holding these positions for extensive amounts of time could lead to musculoskeletal issues.
- Cognitive Changes: A study found that people who were diagnosed with a smartphone addiction exhibited a decreased cognitive performance and developed a problem with the part of their brain responsible for transmitting messages.
- Risk of Obesity: Before devices, people spent more time outdoors being active and working on physical hobbies. Those who spend an excessive amount of time on their screens are likely less active, increasing their risk for obesity and other physical health problems.
How Screen Time Affects Children
Many people regard screen time as the new babysitter. Keeping kids occupied with an iPad or cellphone can be tempting when you need to keep them distracted while you get some work done, but too much screen time can negatively impact your child, even more so depending on what they are watching. Similar to adults, the content of your child’s screen time is more important than the time itself. However, the combination of the two have been linked to:
- Poor Sleep
- Behavioral Issues
- Delayed Language and Social Skills Development
- Increased Violence
- Trouble Paying Attention
- Decreased Learning
According to experts, unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than any screen. Furthermore, children under 2 years old have an increased likelihood of learning when they interact and play with other children and adults. After age 2, children may benefit from screen time that utilizes music, movement, and stories. However, this isn’t your cue to leave them alone with their screen. Watching programming with your child can help increase their understanding and apply what they are watching to real life.
Developing Boundaries for Healthy Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines their suggestions for screen time for children as:
- Children younger than 18 months: Media use discouraged, except for video chatting
- 18 to 24 months: Less than 1 hour per day of high quality content with adult supervision
- 2 to 5 years old: One hour a day of high-quality programming
- 5 to 18 years old: The American Heart Association suggests a maximum of two hours
Kids spend most of their day at school and spend as much as 12 hours sleeping, plus they should spend a separate hour of the day participating in a physical activity. If they are fulfilling those requirements, they should only have a few hours of time available for screen time anyway.
Ensure Quality Screen Time
Similar to adults, the quality of the content is more important than the actual time kids spend on devices. Before your child begins using a new app or game, always preview it first to make sure it is appropriate and beneficial. Quality content provides engagement rather than just staring at a screen and isn’t too fast-paced for kids to understand.
To keep kids safe from inappropriate content, use parental controls, ask them to stay nearby during screen time so you can supervise, and discuss advertising and commercials when they occur to teach them the difference between ads and factual information.
- Moody, Rebecca. “Screen Time Statistics: Average Screen Time in US vs. the rest of the world.” Comparitech. 2022.
- Atske, Sara and Perrin, Andrew. “About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online.” Pew Research Center. 2021.
- “How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Adults?” Reid Health.
- Serrano, Jamie Friedlander. “Experts Can’t Agree on How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Adults.” Time. 2022.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Screen time and children: How to guide your child.” Mayo Clinic. 2022.
- “How to manage kids' screentime during the pandemic.” Reid Health.