When the quarantine began in 2020, we were glued to our phones and computers. Between social media, gaming, video calls, homeschooling, and remote work, many things took place on the screen.
After a while, we realized things couldn’t go on like that. Anxiety, exhaustion, physical inactivity, and social isolation were not doing anyone any good.
Now it’s time to find out where we are with screen time and how to change it.
Usually, we don’t have a realistic estimate of our total screen time.
Think about it for a moment.
We wake up, and the first thing we do in the morning is check our phones. And so it goes on for the rest of the day until we fall asleep with the phone in hand.
We use phones, laptops, tablets, and television all the time. Sometimes, there are reasonable justifications like working, studying, or communicating with friends and relatives. Still, there are things to be concerned about.
- Are we making the best use of our time?
- Do we need boundaries on screen time, especially for the youth?
- If so, what are the best practices for the healthy and efficient use of these gadgets?
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is Screen Time
Screen time refers to the time spent sitting in front of a screen. It might mean texting with smartphones, playing games with a console, watching TV, or checking emails on a laptop.
With some exceptions, screen time suggests a sedentary lifestyle. There are very few physical activities that could safely be done while using a digital device. And of course, numerous studies have shown the mental and cognitive effects of screen time and inactivity.
Like most tools created in human history, there is nothing inherently wrong with using a smartphone or computer. But screened devices are on a whole new level. We are dealing with something much more complex, time-consuming, and life-changing. Some screen time statistics illuminate this point:
How Much Do We Spend on Screen Time
A recent survey shows that an average person spends almost 7 hours (six hours and 55 minutes to be precise) in front of a screen daily.
It means screen time accounts for about 38 to 43 percent of the waking hours.
In some countries, the percentage is as high as 60%!
GWI findings also show that a typical global internet user spends an average of 3 hours and 39 minutes using the internet on their cell phone. In comparison, people spend 3 hours and 24 minutes a day watching TV.
Mobile phones are still the most widely used internet devices, accounting for 55 percent of web traffic.
Laptops follow by 41 percent, and the overall share of tablets, computers, and other devices adds up to less than 3 percent.
Average Screen Time in the U.S.
America is above the global average by a small margin. The average screen time in the U.S. is 7 hours and 11 minutes daily.
The 2018 RescueTime study of 11,000 users showed that average smartphone usage is 3 hours and 15 minutes.
But eMarketer’s 2020 estimate data points to a rising trend. Statistics showed that Americans spend 4 hours and 16 minutes on mobile devices. What happened in between?
COVID-19 & Screen Time
No one doubts that coronavirus fundamentally changed our lives.
The impact has been strongly felt in the usage of mobiles, social media & TV. According to data published by JAMA Pediatrics, screen time among teens doubled from 3.8 hours per day to 7.7 hours. This study excluded the hours allocated to virtual classrooms from their database.
Some may willingly turn their heads to ignore the new reality.
Ultimately, however, we must deal with the consequences.
Screen Addiction: The Silent Pandemic
We often have draconian rules about how much screen time children or teens should have. Yet, there are usually no guidelines when it comes to adults. Perhaps we’ve been talked into believing that we are wise and strong enough to resist temptation.
We still need to know more about the impact of different types of technology on our lives. Sometimes we may forget how wrong unlimited screen time can be.
What’s the worst that can happen? Quite a lot.
Poor Sleep Quality
Numerous studies confirm a direct link between smartphone screen time and various sleep irregularities, including oversleeping, sleep deficit, and decreased sleep efficiency.
Exposure to blue light on phone and laptop screens suppresses melatonin production, leading to difficulty initiating sleep and insomnia.
You may have heard of free apps or websites claiming to filter out blue light produced by media devices.
Blue-blocking glasses make the same promise.
Since there isn’t a substantial body of research supporting these assertions, the best advice is to stop using electronic devices at least half an hour before bed.
Physical Health Risks
It’s a simple equation; more time spent in front of a screen means less time for outings, working out or gardening. A sedentary lifestyle is perhaps one of the most common and unhealthy ways to live.
Inactivity leads directly to obesity and harmful eating habits. And obesity, in turn, increases vulnerability to chronic diseases, including heart and circulatory disorders, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Sitting in an awkward position for an extended period should sound familiar to most. Nerd neck syndrome is real. And it’s not just about looking bad, although that’s a crucial factor too. Incorrect posture can permanently damage body structure.
Headaches, neck, and back pain are regular guests of poor posture. Moreover, even slight damage close to the nerve roots can lead to different cognitive disorders, including stress, lack of concentration, and drowsiness.
Eye Strain & Headaches
This is perhaps one of the things we all have experienced. Starting with eye strain and sometimes ending with a migraine episode. Evidence confirms a strong interconnection between long-time exposure to screen light and the mentioned symptoms.
Most of the time, the problem fades away with some rest or a quick nap. However, prolonged and continuous hours of screen time can cause permanent damage, including eye weakness or irritation.
Because you’ll develop computer vision syndrome, which already affects 75% of the people who work on computers. Studies show that we blink 66% less while working on the computer.
Depression and Anxiety
A 2019 study revealed that too much screen time is associated with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Reducing sleep efficiency is undoubtedly correlated with these issues.
On the other hand, withdrawal from real-life interactions may lead to avoidant tendencies.
Last but not least, hormonal changes, including a sudden release of dopamine, usually do more harm than good.
Cognitive & Behavioral Disorders
Many recent studies on the effects of screen time examined the relationship between developmental, behavioral, or similar problems and unregulated screen use. For example, one study revealed that prolonged screen time might exacerbate cognitive deficits.
It includes IQ decrease, lack of problem-solving skills, and impulse control. Science Daily also reported that too much screen time for students leads to poor grades, ADHD, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder.
It’s time to step back and revamp the entire approach to managing screen time. The good news is that it’s never too late to start limiting screen time and social media consumption.
Still, it’s almost impossible to say how many hours is considered too much screen time for an average person.
Ideally, adults should follow a child’s screen time, less than two hours daily. Yet certain activities, from making digital art to doing online research, are full-time jobs for many.
The first step is to be honest with ourselves. Separating necessary screen-related activities from aimlessly scrolling websites or browsing social media apps frees time.
There are several tips to manage screen time effectively.
Finding healthy habits for your kids is necessary. According to a widely cited 2019 study, longer screen time decelerates brain development in children. Except for occasional usage such as video chatting, screens are not meant for this age group. As they grow up, try to encourage educational and social screen use.
Support them with guidance in choosing constructive content overviewed by professional experts.
Try Digital Minimalism
Digital minimalism revolves around carefully choosing online activities and focusing entirely on doing them as efficiently as possible. The primary objective is to free up time to devote to the things in life we truly value.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport.
You’ll be amazed to see how much of our time spent online only seems necessary. The approach has a solid reputation for increasing mental clarity and efficiency.
📖 For more, check out Digital Minimalism, a New York Times bestseller by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport.
Set a Time Frame
Getting off social media is impossible for many.
They don’t want to lose resources, connections, and fun. In that case, setting a specific time to check notifications and respond to emails would be a viable alternative.
Like so many other habits, it might be challenging at first.
For children especially, the lack of self-esteem and impairment of social skills could seriously undermine their futures.
No Device Time
Finally, we should consider a backward step. The primary purpose of technological improvement was to live rich and efficient lives. It seems now that we have become victims of our creation.
Social media, television, and many other tech devices are magnificent social constructs we should all enjoy.
Yet, we can take a walk, catch up with friends and family, or read a book without a buzzing phone in our pocket.