It’s not new information that technology has infiltrated everyone’s life in a big way the last couple decades. It’s ubiquitous with our work, relationships and free time — but when is it too much? We could all probably agree there’s a balance to strike when limiting our screen time. It’s necessary for work and communication, but mindlessly scrolling is something we could all cut back on. Otherwise, Apple wouldn’t have introduced a way to check your daily screen time. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the ways overindulging can affect us at different ages.
From the moment we’re born to age 3, our brains are in a critical period of development. We need stimulation from an outside environment to properly build neural networks and understand how to interact with the world. Unfortunately, tablets and smartphones don’t account for this stimulation — they work as a sort of shortcut that supplies babies with information rather than letting them learn themselves. Too much time with screens can also cause children to lack the social development they need during that age. If they spend most of their time on a tablet, they’re not going to learn how to interact with others.
Although research isn’t conclusive, there’s evidence to suggest that excessive screen time has a negative effect on the mental well-being of teens. One study found that teens who spent more than an hour on screens were less curious, more easily distracted and had a difficult time making friends. Those who spent an excessive amount of time on screens were twice as likely to have anxiety or depression. Researchers even found that excessive screen time seemed to negatively affect teens more than it did for children. But again, the research can’t state for sure whether more screen time definitely leads to depression and anxiety.
Screens don’t just affect us at a younger age though. As adults, we can experience headaches or migraines, sensitivity to light, a sore neck, and dry eyes due to overloading on screen time.
We also risk restructuring the matter that makes up our brains, specifically atrophy in the gray area and compromised white matter. This means it affects how we process things and could mean we lose communication within areas of the brain like the cognitive and emotional brain centers. But again, there’s not enough evidence to call these results conclusive or entirely proven.
So how do we hide from something so ingrained in our culture? Well, there’s really no need to go cold turkey — screens are a necessary part of our daily lives. But do be aware of how much time you allow yourself and your children to stare at screens. Start with a realistic goal like two hours of free time on screens and see how it goes. If you can cut down further, great! If not, just continue to monitor yourself and allow for plenty of non-screen activities to break the cycle.
Do you police yourself or your kids when it comes to screen time? Have you tried to set rules like tech-free dinners or cell phone-free family nights? Let us know your experience with screen time and how you maintain a balance.