The Adverse Psychological Health Effects of Too Much Screen Time

The Adverse Health Effects of Too Much Screen Time

“People spend hours in the Oasis,” said Wade Watts in the blockbuster, “Ready Player One.” His words transcend time in today’s world. Screen time on smartphones, computers, and tablets is simply part of life; the issue holds bigger implications for parents of children with so-called screen time addiction. Yet, researchers advise against calling it an addiction. They opt for behavioral manipulation of the next evolution of human activity. The complexity nulls the senses to the problem; is too much screen time damaging for children, parents, coworkers, and society?

Diane Sawyer’s recent ScreenTime Special Report sought to answer this question. Screen time surrounds us all. The average person spends 49 days per year on their phones. People typically unlock their smartphone more than 80 times per day. Some children present distracting and destructive behaviors when parents attempt to limit access to screen time. The potential psychological side effects impact all demographics.

Young Children Recognize the Time Lost in Parents’ Digital Distraction

Digital devices are a source of interactive learning experiences for young children. During Sawyer’s reporting, researchers took a step toward understanding how children perceive parental use of smartphones. In the experience, children would almost immediately begin vying for a parent’s attention when the parent was instructed to only look at their devices.

One child became destructive, throwing toys around the room. Other study periods revealed children would recognize a parent is simply out of it, sitting calmly and waiting. What does it mean? Digital media, while helpful, changes interactions between children and parents, presenting a possible risk for psychological turmoil in adolescence and adulthood, reports AAP News & Journals. Since removing digital devices is not an option, the solution must lie in a balance between engagement and personal device use.

Dogs Fight for Your Attention

Another key finding in the report focused on dogs and owner phone-use. Researchers noted dogs’ consistent behavior to attempt to distract a person when the person is not engaged with the animal. Researchers noted this was the result of dogs’ interpretation of their environments. “Dogs are one of the few animals that gain information about their environment from the eyes of others,” noted researchers.

When dogs see a person looking down, it disrupts their personality and environment. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, pet engagement can help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression. Unfortunately, when people begin to favor digital media over pets, it nullifies the protective effect.

Gaming Possesses Qualities Indicative of Manipulation

It’s time to discuss the elephant in the room—gaming among children and teenagers. Gaming has evolved in recent years from a recreational activity to a source of scholarships and wealth. Major competitions exist that provide opportunities for socialization and improved mental health among children. The same environments that promote such a culture can have an addictive-like effect on the mind.

As explained by Dr. Marc Potenza, video games trigger a reaction within the brain like gambling. It sounds like the epicenter of too much screen time. However, minimal, large-scale research exists to support Potenza’s claim. Case studies of children and adolescents have found commonalities among those who engage in excessive gaming, including a lapse in homework completion, lack of sleep, and failure to meet responsibilities. Since it would be too great a risk to call gaming an addiction, Potenza hopes to retrain society with another name—behavioral manipulation.

Games are designed to encourage users to continue playing, yet the manufacturers and developers claim balance is still their priority.

Isolationist Behaviors Lead to Depression and Moodiness

Some youth report playing games up to 18 hours daily, and in the developing brain of children, failure to gain in-person social experiences may lead to depression and moodiness. While these characteristics mirror those suffering from a substance abuse disorder, withdrawal effects quickly subside. Children who reduce gaming time tend to increase their grade point average, get more sleep, and report generally happier feelings.

Peer Pressure Continues Across Social Media

Aside from gaming, social media is among the biggest areas of concern in the screen time conversation. Social media rose from a few small interfaces, such as Myspace, into corporate giants that have ears and arms in every facet of existence. Unfortunately, social media use correlates with a decrease in self-esteem.

Regardless of screen-sharing apps and video chats, people continue to interact with the world through digital devices. Again, this creates a disconnect in social skill development and application, and it exists through all ages and demographics. According to Forbes, “social media addiction” is among the top searches in Google Trends, closely following “phone addiction.”

As previously noted, it is not truly an addiction, but it is the effect on life that makes people believe phone addiction is real. Addiction leads to isolationism, so what can people do to feel connected again?

Researchers within Sawyer’s reporting explained that face-to-face, real-world engagement makes people feel connected. This connection protects against feelings of loneliness, sadness, and depression.

Presence of Digital Devices May Destroy Job Opportunities

Digital devices may also cause turmoil in the life that contributes to risk for mental illness without directly influencing a person. Simply possessing a smartphone during an interview lessens the likelihood of securing a position.

Employers surveyed in the documentary further noted that most applicants will take or at least ask to take a call or text during an interview. This goes against basic interview expectations. This desire to respond, “Like,” share, or interact demonstrates a person’s unwillingness to let go of the digital interaction, even when it could undermine success.

Lost job opportunities may amount to other problems in life, such as food insecurity and housing instability.

Eliminating Screen Time Fails to Solve the Problem

What’s the real solution to too much screen time? Everything points to balance and limiting the use of digital devices, explained Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. At one point, Cook was unlocking his phone 200x per day. With active vigilance, he reduced that number to approximately 80. However, Cook believes another problem exists—privacy.

The average person accepts privacy policies with every website, app, device, and feature. When printed, the average person accepts more than three reams worth of privacy policies. That would take months to read, assuming a person read constantly and only stopped to sleep, eat, and use the bathroom.

Within these privacy policies, people unknowingly divulge their permission for data collection and harvesting. While companies often advocate their policies as company-exclusive material, failure to the policy is a plan for failure. The wrong action could lead to the sharing of information with advertisers, and third-party entities and the risk for a cyber attack.

The voluminous details shared through digital devices allude to the need to stay more vigilant over device use. For children, the impact of these policies is significant. Failure to understand what is given to software developers could lead to problems in life. Too much information on the internet tarnishes your privacy, creating a narrative that will be used for and against a person in the future.

It sounds like a courtroom, and believe it or not, similar battles have waged over media in the past.

In 1954, congressional hearings were conducted to reduce a threat to childhood and adolescent development—comic books. The measures failed, but their similarities to today’s arguments over screen time are beyond reproach.

Opponents of comic books described them as “causing terror across the nation and promoting bad moral development.” Today, they remain part of our culture, and similarly, digital devices will only grow in use. Instead of eliminating screen time for children and youth, people must learn to live with its effects.

Become Self-Aware of Too Much Screen Time in Your World

Self-awareness is key to avoiding the pitfalls of excessive screen time. Society is reliant on our digital devices; they keep us connected. Unfortunately, that connection may lead to disconnect and mental health deterioration, but action to manage screen time helps. That is the moral and key finding of the entire report.

“People need to spend more time in the real world; it’s the only thing that’s real,” says Watts at the closing of “Ready Player One.” The all-consuming world of the future is already here in the form of digital devices. People must take a stand to recognize the risks of too much screen time and limit their use.

Take the challenge issued by Sawyer; limit your use to improve your engagement with your surroundings.

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