Like most things in life, the internet has its pros and cons. It can teach us new skills, connect us with loved ones across the globe, and help us find information instantly.
However, it’s no secret that we have become dependent on our devices. Screen addiction is an epidemic globally, with Brazil, China, the United States, South Korea, Canada, and the UK all in the top 10 countries with the most excessive phone usage.
And it is not just affecting adults.
Statistics show that 47% of parents think their child has a smartphone addiction.
While 72% of teens feel the need to respond to messages and notifications immediately.
But how exactly does too much screen time affect us? And what are the implications on our mental health?
In this article, we’ll explore why we depend on our devices and the negative impact of this addiction. And be sure to read until the end, as I’ll share ways to detach from your phone and cultivate disciplined screen time.
There’s some irony to this article we wrote it looking at screens and you’re reading it on a screen. So screens aren’t all bad.
The Internet and The Rise of Screen Time
Excessive screen time is an issue that has only become apparent in the 21st Century. However, according to research, the average amount of time we spend staring at screens is rapidly increasing.
For example, 2023 stats show that the global average for daily (online) screen time is 6 hours 58 minutes daily. This has increased by around 50 minutes per day in the last decade.
Moreover, throughout the digital age, researchers see a specific period when screen time increased the most – during Covid 19.
The lockdowns and isolation of the global pandemic naturally resulted in people spending more time on their devices. One survey by HighSpeedInternet.com found that 57% of Americans reported their screen time increased by one hour or more during this period.
Different Types of Screen Time
These stats mentioned above include all the different types of devices that connect to the internet. While the selection of internet-enabled technology is increasing, most screen time can be broken down into the following categories.
1. Smart Phones
How many hours do you think you spend on your smartphone each day?
You only have to look around you while on a bus, waiting for a train, or in the work cafeteria to witness how addicted we are to our smartphones.
According to Zippia, the average American spends a staggering 5 hours and 24 minutes on their smartphone daily. This includes checking for notifications approximately 96 times (equalling once every ten minutes).
But the real shocker about our smartphone usage is the number of times we touch our devices – often for no reason. The same Zippia research found that the average person reaches for their phone 2,617 times daily! This includes putting it in/taking it out of your pocket, carrying it to another room, and unlocking it purely out of habit.
The amount of time we spend on our computers or laptops will differ drastically depending on whether we have a computer-based job. Those who work online will have a naturally higher overall screen time than those who do manual jobs.
While using a computer for work is much more productive than aimlessly scrolling through your phone, it still leads to many negative physical and mental health impacts. These include eye tension, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain.
The traditional analog TV is nowhere near as popular as 20 years ago, but this doesn’t mean we watch fewer TV shows and movies. If you’re not viewing your favorite series on the latest smart TV, you’ll likely be streaming it on your laptop or smartphone.
Thanks to on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, we can watch whatever we want whenever we want, and boy, aren’t we taking advantage of it! 2023 digital trends show that 93.5% of Americans now stream TV online, so we are certainly not watching less TV, but just watching it in a different way.
4. Video Games
You don’t have to own an Xbox or PS5 to get caught up in this type of screen time. Yep, that’s right, our multi-purpose smartphones offer hundreds of video games at our fingertips.
Considering this, it’s no surprise that 41% of the worldwide population plays video games. Interestingly, this number is expected to grow by 16.56% by 2027.
In the USA, there are estimated to be around 215.5 million games, who spend an average of 7.71 hours per week gaming. This is lower than China, though, which has 742.19 million players averaging 12.39 hours of video game screen time per week.
Understanding Screen Time
So why are we spending more and more time looking at our phones and computers?
Research has found that using phones and tablets triggers the chemical production of dopamine in our brains to make us feel aroused, motivated, and happy. Like with other addictions, we crave this “mental high,” leading to the biggest non-drug drug addiction of the 21st Century!
Dopamine And Social Reward
Smartphone addiction is caused by what is known as the ‘dopamine reward loop.’ When we pick up our phone and see someone has messaged us or liked our latest IG post, the dopamine chemical in our brain increases. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, increasing our self-esteem and self-worth.
However, dopamine is fleeting, and that high is quickly followed by a low. Your mind craves more, so you subconsciously look at your phone, waiting for the next hit. This quickly becomes a vicious circle that is difficult to break out of.
Screen Time in Kids vs. Adults
The effects of excessive screen time can differ between children and adults. Young children will not get the same dopamine “hit” from social media usage as teenagers and adults. However, they still experience an increase of this chemical when they are using their parent’s phones to watch Youtube videos or play games. Let’s explore this more…
Screen Time and Kids
2023 screen time stats show that Gen Z has the highest screen time, averaging around a staggering 9 hours per day! For reference, as of 2023, Gen Z is aged between eight and 23 years old. Thus, children and teenagers form a vast amount of this generation.
And the stats are also worrying when we look at the next generation, known as Generation Alpha (those born between 2010 and 2024). Research has found that almost half (49%) of 0- to 2-year-olds already interact with smartphones regularly, such as by watching Youtube videos on their parent’s phones.
Many parents will know how addicted young children can get to phones and Ipads. Screen time creates a chronic state of hyper-arousal in children, hindering their impulse control and leading to that dreaded agitated yet exhausted state.
But excessive screen time in children does more than just cause tantrums when you say no. It can make it harder for them to retain information, negatively affecting their academic performance. It can also reduce their socialization skills by impacting their ability to relate to others and regulate their emotions.
This is due to the long-term impact that excessive screen time has on a child’s cognitive development. According to psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Psy.D., and author of Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World, too much screen time has two detrimental effects on a child’s brain:
- Overstimulation of the reward center of the brain (due to excess dopamine releases)
- Underuse of essential areas of a child’s developing brain, including those associated with focus, delay of gratification, and ability to deal with boredom.
Screen Time and Adults
So how does the dopamine reward loop affect adults? As mentioned, it becomes a complex cycle to get out of, meaning we increase our screen time further. This results in low productivity and trouble staying present in our daily lives.
This can harm our relationships – just think about how many couples you have seen eating in a restaurant together while both on their phones!
However, it doesn’t only affect our ability to connect with others and get work done. Like drug-related addictions, excessive screen time can cause Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS). This means we cannot derive reward from ordinary, everyday activities, making happiness and fulfillment something that gets further and further away from us.
Screen Time and Mental Health: The Connection
Aside from the negative impact of the dopamine reward loop, excessive screen time can have many adverse effects on our mental health. Let’s look deeper into why we should reduce our screen time.
Many parents worry that too much screen time may lead to ADHD. Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to prove this to be true, but some studies suggest children with ADHD may have an increased risk of developing a screen or gaming addiction.
This is because children (and adults) with ADHD struggle with self-control, making it challenging to use tech in a disciplined way. What’s more, the short attention span of an ADHD brain craves the ever-changing flashy graphics and sounds of a TV screen or video game.
Excessive screen time, particularly social media usage, can cause low self-esteem in adults and children as it distorts our perception of reality. We compare ourselves to our peers online, taking their lives as reality when what people post is usually fabricated.
Low self-esteem is not just a result of social media usage. Watching movies and TV shows can also make us feel inadequate as we compare ourselves to characters in unrealistic situations. Studies have shown that TV can cause low self-esteem in children as young as 11.
Impaired Social Skills & Weakened Emotional Judgment
The more time we spend sitting in front of a screen, the less time we spend interacting in the real world.
Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Dr. Joe Austerman has seen a clear association between excessive screen time and poor social skills in children. He believes that too much screen time can affect a child’s ability to understand and relate to the emotions of others, making it difficult for them to make friends.
However, excessive screen time can also negatively affect an adult’s social skills. Spending too much time connected online rather than with others makes it difficult to establish connections in real life and maintain strong relationships.
Anxiety & Depression
While excessive screen time has links with increased anxiety and depression, how much it increases your risk of these mental health disorders is unknown. However, it is believed that adolescents (teenagers and those in their early twenties) are most at risk.
One study looked at the mental health implications of daily tech use in older adolescents and found that smartphone addiction significantly increases feelings of depression and loneliness. A separate study found that these mental health implications can happen after just one hour of screen time.
For adults and children alike, too much screen time can keep us awake at night yet cause fatigue during the day. This is most apparent when using tech in the evening, such as watching TV in bed or scrolling through your phone late at night.
In fact, studies have shown that over two hours of screen time in the evening can disrupt your melatonin levels (the hormone that helps you fall asleep). This is because tech devices give off a short-wavelength blue light that mimics sunlight, making your body think it is daytime and thus, messing up your circadian rhythm.
Research has found that children who spend a lot of time in front of a screen are more likely to develop a sedentary lifestyle as adults, which can lead to weight issues like obesity. This is because they spend less time outdoors and engage in less physical activity.
Moreover, as social media, video games, and TV are full of ads, excessive screen time can also increase your exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks.
The Positive Effects of Disciplined Screen Time
It’s important to note that the internet is not all bad. It can be an excellent source of information, allowing us to learn new things and gain new skills.
The epidemic of excessive screen time comes from using our devices for the wrong things and not taking enough time away from screens. If we can use the internet to our advantage, we can better ourselves while keeping our body and mind healthy, resulting in the following:
- More Learning Opportunities – Instead of spending our evenings watching Netflix series, we can enroll in an online course. We can learn how to cook through Youtube, take online sewing classes, or even learn a new language.
- Improved creativity – The digital age has opened us up to the world of content creation. Instead of wasting hours scrolling through other people’s social media posts, we can work our creative brains by making content. We can create unique and funny Tiktok videos, creative graphics and memes, and insightful blog posts.
- Better Communication – The internet also allows us to virtually see family on the other side of the world and reconnect with old friends. Rather than using the internet to escape the real world, we can use it to connect with people we would not meet in real life.
How To Limit Your Screen Time
So we already know that most people spend around 6 hours a day in front of a screen, which is far too much. But what is a healthy amount of screen time?
Experts recommend adults spend less than two hours per day using screens (outside of work) while aiming to spend three to four hours each day doing activities that involve no tech at all.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Teenagers and children under five should spend no more than two hours a day in front of screens (for non-educational purposes). Meanwhile, children aged two to five should spend less than one hour daily using tech. It is also recommended that children under two years old have zero exposure to screens, including TV.
But of course, knowing how screen time causes dopamine releases, limiting screen time is easier said than done. So here are a few strategies I recommend to reduce your social media usage and overall screen timel:
1. Set a Daily Limit on Your Phone
If you’re an iPhone user, you can set app limits and schedule downtown (restricted access) to your phone through your settings. As you can set limits per app, this is handy if you want to limit only certain apps, like social media.
For other smartphones, many apps allow you to set limits and restrictions, such as OffScreen. You can also view your screen time each day, set a screen time goal, and receive notifications when approaching it.
2. Sleep With Your Phone Outside The Bedroom
If you’re experiencing sleep disturbances, stop taking your devices to the bedroom at night. With your phone on your bedside table, you’re much more likely to check notifications and get caught up in an unconscious Facebook scroll when you should be sleeping.
Not having your phone in the bedroom also prevents you from checking your phone as soon as you wake up.
3. Take Up A New Hobby
If you’re dependent on your phone, fill your time doing more device-free activities. This could be attending a fitness class (be sure to leave your phone in the locker), playing board games, journaling, or baking. Aim to spend at least two hours daily doing tech-free activities, gradually increasing this to the recommended three to four hours.
Final Thoughts On Screen Time & Mental Health
The statistics and studies on the correlation between screen time and mental health are alarming. Therefore, it is imperative we take control of our technology usage by being mindful of our screen time and utilizing the internet for productive activities (like reading ((or writing)) a blog).
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