Even by conservative estimates, the average American spends over 6 hours per day staring at a screen. That’s a lot of time. What does the scientific research say about it? Is it good or bad for us?
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What do we mean by the term “screen time”, exactly?
“Screen time” as a term isn’t that useful, because it doesn’t really tell you what you’re doing on screen. It’s kind of like if someone asks you what you had for lunch, and you say “food” — that doesn’t provide any real info. And not all screen time is created equal. Context matters. Spending 4 hours creating a video for YouTube is WAY different than spending 4 hours watching cat videos. How you feel about and how you process each of those situations won’t be the same, so lumping them all under “screen time” doesn’t make much sense.
So is screen time good or bad for us?
Our digital lives can take a physical toll on us — multiple studies have shown that excess screen time can lead to bad sleep. And some researchers even use the term “addiction” when talking about how we interact with our devices, although there’s a lot of debate on whether or not screen time can be a bona fide addiction like gambling. And there is some research that found that the more time people spent in front of screens, the more it affected their well-being — their chances of developing depression and suicidal thoughts went up.
On the flip side, screens allow us to stay connected with people. Sure, some people have to deal with feeling overwhelmed because of drama or feeling pressure to only post a highlight reel of themselves to make them look good to others. But, in many studies, a majority of teens say that social media “mainly helps” the relationships they already have with their friends. And when you look at stuff like multiplayer video games, Twitch streams, or Reddit, wandering around online allows you to find your “tribe”. If you don’t quite fit in where you live, or you live in a small or isolated community, QUALITY screen time might be essential to keeping you sane.