Screen time is the time spent using a device with a screen, such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console.
Prior to the pandemic, the average screen time for adults in the United States was 11 hours per day.1 However, since the lockdown, this number has increased to 19 hours per day, and a significant percentage of adults report being online almost constantly.2,3
With many occupations demanding hours in front of a computer and so much of our leisure time spent streaming shows on television and skimming social media on phones, you may ask, "Are there any negative consequences of screen time that I should be concerned about?"
The Problems From Too Much Screen Time
Spending long periods of time sitting in front of a screen can cause eye strain, headaches, and back and neck pain. Additionally, exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt our natural sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
Additionally, prolonged screen time can have negative effects on our mental health. Studies have shown that excessive screen time can lead to increased anxiety and depression, as well as decreased social skills and relationships.4 This is because social media and other forms of digital media can often create unrealistic expectations and lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation.
Moreover, excessive screen time can also lead to addiction and a lack of focus, which can cause problems at school, work, and personal relationships. It can also interfere with physical activities and face-to-face interactions, essential for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Lastly, reducing screen time can lead to an overall improvement in our well-being.
How to Reduce Your Screen Time
1. Set limits.
Use the built-in screen time tracking features on your device or download a third-party app to limit the amount of time you spend on your device.
2. Create a schedule.
Set specific times during the day when you will use your device and stick to them. For example, you could use your phone for 30 minutes in the morning, an hour during lunch, and 30 minutes before bed.
3. Use "Do Not Disturb" mode.
Turn on "Do Not Disturb" mode during certain times of the day when you don't want to be disturbed by notifications.
4. Keep your device out of reach.
Keep your device out of reach when you're not using it, such as in a bag or another room.
5. Find alternative activities.
Find alternative activities to do when you're not using your device. This can include reading a book, walking, or spending time with friends and family.
6. Take a digital detox.
Consider taking a digital detox, where you disconnect from all forms of digital media for a specific period of time. This can include a day, a weekend, or even a week.
7. Turn off notifications.
Turn off unnecessary notifications on your device, or at least limit the number of notifications you receive.
8. Find a balance.
Remember that it's not about completely eliminating screen time but finding a balance that works for you.
How Much Screen Time Is Healthy?
In terms of recommended screen time for children, it depends on a child's age. The American Academy of Pediatrics5 provides the following recommendations:
Children under two years old:
- Very limited screen time (less than one hour per day).
- Only with an adult present (e.g., video-chatting family members).
- Be present and use media with your child. Comment on what's happening. Ask your child questions.
Children two to five years old:
- One hour or less per day.
- Media that is interactive, non-violent, and educational.
- Should be supervised with co-view or co-play.
- Encourage and engage your children to participate in other fun and healthy activities.
Children five to 18 years old:
- Screen time should be tailored to each child.
- Should be filtered (using media parental controls) or supervised.
The amount of recommended screen time for adults is less clear, and there are no formal, universally accepted guidelines. Instead, some experts who study screen time effects recommend adults limit screen time to less than two hours per day outside of work-related activities6, while others say that the content you are consuming matters more than the overall time you spend on the phone.7 For example, watching a documentary on your phone doesn’t have the same impact as mindlessly scrolling Instagram.
It’s Not All Bad
Of course, screen time is not all negative. There are plenty of positive effects of screen time, too, including:
- Screen time is an amazing communication tool and can improve children's socialization.
- Screen time encourages learning in engaging ways.
- Certain apps encourage healthful behaviors, such as regular exercise, healthier food choices, and better sleep.
- Screen time can help with the development of fine motor skills.
The Last Word
Reducing screen time is essential for our physical and mental health and well-being. It's important to be mindful of our device use and find a balance that works for us.
Remember that it's not about completely eliminating screen time but rather finding a balance that allows us to enjoy the benefits of technology without allowing it to negatively impact our lives.
By following these guidelines, you can reduce your screen time and improve your overall well-being. It's essential to be consistent and stay motivated when making changes.
Gradually reducing your time on screens will be more realistic and sustainable in the long run.
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1 Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time and growing. https://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html
2 How much time do we spend looking at screens? https://www.visiondirect.co.uk/blog/research-reveals-screen-time-habits.
3 About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/26/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-say-they-are-almost-constantly-online/
4 Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6214874/
5 American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-And-Watching-TV-054.aspx
6 How To Establish a Healthier Relationship With Screens. https://www.henryford.com/blog/2021/12/adult-screen-time-limits
7 Experts Can’t Agree on How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Adults. https://time.com/6174510/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much/