We live on our phones and other devices. We text our friends, binge watch shows, play video games, and we love engaging in social media. We also need technology for learning. But is it possible to spend too much screen time? Does it harm our physical and mental health? What about our relationships in real life? It can be difficult to find a healthy balance between reality and screen time.
Doing the Math
According to recent studies, adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours per day using screen time for entertainment. That is in addition to the screen time used for educational purposes. If we look at a 24-hour cycle, we need nine hours of sleep per night, and we are in school for six hours per day. Adding that screen time means that we only have one and a half hours left for homework, face time with family and friends, eating, showering, working, and extra-curricular activities.
Not only does that not add up, meaning that sleep, school, and all of the other things suffer, it also means that there is no balance in our lives. If we look at the amount of time we are spending on our screens vs. the amount of time we are spending interacting with human beings face to face, is there a balance?
We have all heard about the connection between obesity and large amounts of screen time. Obviously, if we are moving less and eating less healthy foods, it will impact our weight. Unfortunately, obesity leads to other problems, including increased rates of diabetes amongst adolescents and more. Yet at the same time, increasing exercise and eating healthier foods is not enough to change the number of adolescents impacted by obesity and other side effects. The amount of screen time also has to drop in order to improve our physical health.
Screen time also impacts our sleep. Obviously, if we are on our screens that much, we are not getting the nine hours per night we need. However, screen time also impacts our ability to sleep, and it is recommended that we have no screen time at all for at least an hour before we go to bed. Sleep is crucial not only for our physical health and our ability to function every day, but it is also a cornerstone of our mental health.
Mental and Emotional Health
There is a very long list of ways excessive screen time is linked to poor mental and emotional health. Some of the consequences of screen time include increased loneliness, anxiety, depression, withdrawal, aggression, attention problems, and even suicidal thoughts.
These problems can increase even more based on what we are doing with screen time. For example, texting friends and family excessively typically have fewer negative impacts. Certain video games increase our aggression while playing certain video games with friends or family has significantly fewer negative side effects. Social media use can be more positive if we are interactive and engaging with people in positive ways, or it can be extremely harmful to our mental and emotional health if there is bullying or abuse or if we are merely lurking and comparing ourselves to the lives and images we see. It is not just how much time, but also how we are using that screen time that determines the impact of our mental and emotional health.
While social media and texting can be used to keep in touch with family and friends, there is a difference between the virtual relationships and the face to face relationships that we have in real life. Our minds and our bodies need the human connection: eye contact, reading body language and facial cues, the sound, and emotions of voices and even the smells, the hormones our bodies give off, etc. All of these things impact our brains differently than just reading a text. All of these things increase our human connection. So reading “I (heart emoji) U” literally does not give us the same chemical reaction in our brains as hearing, seeing, and smelling someone saying “I love you” in person. That doesn’t even take into consideration all of the misunderstandings that happen via texting without all of those face to face social cues. We need to spend time with other people face to face, not only to have healthy relationships but also for our mental health.
The best way to manage our screen time and balance it with other things that are important to our mental health is to prioritize the things we have learned about that impact our mental health. We can ask ourselves how much sleep we are getting, if we are alert and functioning well at school and/or work, and then make goals to spend specific amounts of time seeking face to face interactions with others each day. Screen time is great. Sometimes it is so helpful just to veg out, and it is a great way to keep track of relationships. But we need to experience those relationships in real life to help our mental and emotional health. We need human interaction to stay healthy both mentally and physically. If we prioritize our real-life ahead of our screen time, then we can find a balance. We can enjoy social media, video games, our favorite shows, and movies and more and still be healthy if we can maintain balance with our real lives.
Use your mental health knowledge to find balance in your life. Embark Behavioral Health can be a reference point of mental health for you. For questions call 1-855-809-0409.