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.

SOURCES:

Media Use By Tweens and Teens (Common Sense)

Searching for digital technology’s effects on well-being (Nature)

Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018 (Pew Research Center)

Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time (Clinical Psychological Science)

The Kids (Who Use Tech) Seem to Be All Right (Scientific American)

The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use (Nature Human Behaviour)

Passive Facebook Usage Undermines Affective Well-Being (Journal of Experimental Psychology)

Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults (PLoS One)

Digital Life and Youth Wellbeing, Social Connectedness, Empathy, and Narcissism (Pediatrics)

 

Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much? 14 August,2019Derek Lartaud

Author

Derek Lartaud

Derek Lartaud came to the Bay Area after nearly five years of researching schizophrenia and diabetes at Yale University. Determined to tell visual stories, he’s worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera America, TIME, PBS, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. He has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in journalism. When not holding a camera or editing a story, he’s trying to rebuild his 1969 Honda CL350.

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