Confession: I spend too much time on my phone. In front of my tv. Binging Netflix on my laptop before bed.
But in the spirit of leveling the playing field, I’m willing to bet you are in the same unstable boat.
So why do we care? If society is saturated in it, everyone does it—adults and children alike—what’s the big deal? Why do we NEED to reduce screen time?
Frankly—and I promise I will be very frank in the coming sections—the big deal is that we’re pretending to be ignorant of something we’re not. Too much screen time is actively damaging us, and we’re working harder to convince ourselves that it’s not a life-altering issue than we are to protect ourselves and our children from its obvious consequences. Let me assure you, it is bad. Our mental, emotional, and social health are rapidly declining because we’re choosing to turn our eyes away from reality and onto the comfort of a screen.
And we’ve got to stop.
How does screen time affect adults?
If you believe you’re one of the few who remains unaffected by the inescapable pull of The Screen, please rest assured you are not. Maybe you aren’t one on the verge of a staggering technology addiction, but did you know that even the most average of users touches, swipes, or clicks their phone upwards of 2,600 times a day?
And that’s to say nothing of the contact we have with tablets, televisions, laptops, and other smart devices.
If that doesn’t make you at least consider reducing your screen time, I’m not sure what will.
“American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media.” -Nielsen Research Group
That’s almost 70% of a waking day. Which leaves very little time for quiet self-development, reading to toddlers, playing neighborhood baseball, getting to know your teenagers, family game night, practicing the piano, and and and AND. We are missing out on so much by surrendering our time to apps and games and mindless entertainment. But what is it about those screen-based “activities” that’s so bad?
Well, let’s take social media for instance. Can you remember the last time you went just 24 hours without checking any kind of social media? Most can’t.
Let me emphasize, SOCIAL MEDIA AND SCREEN TIME ARE NOT NECESSITIES OF LIFE. Yet we act like going without them for a day may literally kill us.
Why? Because our constant contact with them is literally changing our brains to believe that ludicrous idea.
Too much time spent on social media has over and over again been significantly associated with lower self-esteem, poorer sleep, vision, and eating habits, less healthy social interaction (do I need to point out the irony of it being called social media??), dependence on extrinsic rewards, as well as higher rates of obesity, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
“Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.” -Susan Greenfield, Oxford University
Do I have your attention yet?
What is healthy screen time?
With all that proven negativity, is there such a thing as healthy screen time?
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Well, there are certainly options that are less negative than others. When you’re trying to reduce screen time, remember that the quality of screen time matters.
For instance, there’s a clear difference between being a creator versus being a consumer, in terms of screen time and media ingestion. As a creator, you’re generally using technology to benefit you in a specific and measurable way. You’re performing a task such as utilizing a budgeting app or even creating a photo album for your family.
On the other hand, consumption is where most of our screen time goes: playing games, scrolling through cake-creation videos, mindlessly double-tapping friends’ enviable vacation Boomerangs…you get the picture.
Screen time should almost always have a specific and constructive purpose. (This isn’t to say you should NEVER enjoy a little “fruitless” screen time. We’re just talking healthy percentages here. Think fruits and veggies versus junk food.) You should be able to assign specific work to each of your devices and then use them accomplish those approved jobs and—here’s the kicker—NOTHING ELSE. It becomes easier to reduce screen time when you are clear about your purpose.
What are the benefits of less screen time?
Aside from avoiding all the negative consequences already mentioned, spending less time with screens means more quality time spent elsewhere. Reducing screen time gives you the opportunity to evaluate how you really want to spend your minutes and days and, ultimately, life.
What do you want to be an expert at? Reduce your screen time and start practicing.
Who do you want to spend more time getting to know? Reduce screen time and go start a conversation, IRL.
Where do you want to go? Reduce screen time and start planning. (Heck, use an atlas!)
Who do you want to become? REDUCE SCREEN TIME and become that person.
Should parents limit their children’s screen time?
If adults are being this severely affected by too much screen time, kids are even more vulnerable targets, especially toddlers.
“Between birth and age 3, brains develop rapidly and are sensitive to the surrounding environment. In order for neural pathways to develop properly, kids need movement, natural light and outdoor play, as well as human interaction, including games and socialization. Overloading the brain with excessive stimuli, including visually stressful screen-time, while getting less movement and time to recharge and relax can affect the entire body and cause learning and attention problems as well as poor ability to manage everyday stressors.” -Shoshana Shamberg
The negative effects continue once kids reach school age. Studies show that schools that have incorporated more technology into their classrooms actually experience decreased academic performance and higher rates of attention issues. By reducing screen time and refocusing on the world around them, we allow our kids to truly excel.
To put it simply: childhood and technology do not have a mutually beneficial partnership. Kids need hours of unstructured outdoor play and plenty of one-on-one time with other children and adults to not only grow socially but mentally, emotionally, and physically complete—a great reason to reduce screen time for your family!
I’m not saying you have to go completely off the grid or force your children to, either. I am saying that we’re living in a wildly unbalanced way right now and are already seeing the devastating, and sometimes irreversible, effects.
IT’S TIME TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Say it with me now: Reduce screen time.
How can I reduce my child’s screen time today?
There are myriad ways to reduce screen time on a daily basis, but we’ll make this as simple as possible:
- Go outside—hike, bike, draw with chalk, do a nature scavenger hunt, watch the clouds
- Train for a physical event—a local 5k, half-pipe competition, bubble-blowing contest
- Read—for fun, for school, together, apart
- Play games together—board games, trampoline time, puzzles
- Make family rules (and stick to them!)—decide on time limits and types of media to indulge in, make it interactive family time, enforce predetermined consequences for rule-breaking
- Discuss appropriate behavior when participating in screen time (social media in particular)
- Talk as a family, a LOT
- Use a family-friendly screening and regulating app like Circle or another highly recommended one
There’s no doubt that technology and screen time have their much-needed places in our ever-changing world. But recognition that a good thing has its limits is KEY. Going overboard with any one positive can turn it into a negative, and it’s time we make the necessary changes to ensure our increasingly leaky boats don’t sink into the screen time abyss. Reduce screen time and allow your family the best chance for healthy growth and success.