What are the potential negative consequences of too much or the wrong kind of screen time? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Many families argue about how much time kids spend on their phones. Some parents think it’s too much. Other parents think it’s waaaaay too much. But it’s not just parents who are concerned about this. So are teens. In fact, 90% of teens believe that “too much screen time” is a problem for their peers; 60% believe it is a major problem.
What does “too much” screen time even mean? Is it two hours a day? Four? Eight? For any individual, the answer depends on a number of factors:
- How are you spending that time?
- Are you creating or vegetating?
- Are you a passive spectator or an active participant?
- Are you connecting with friends or lurking?
- Are you learning, exploring, and growing as a person, or are you spending 10 hours a day killing space invaders and mining Obsidian blocks?
- Is your screen time focused and relaxing, or assaultive and upsetting?
- Are you neglecting school, job, or family responsibilities?
- Do you feel compelled to post incessantly, even when you don’t want to?
- Does your mood rise and fall based on the number of likes, shares, followers, or retweets you get?
- Is moss growing on you?
You can see from these questions why the concept of “too much” screen time gets tricky. How your online life is going to affect you depends on your personality, your age, how thick your skin is, what’s going on in your offline life, as well as the nature of your screen time.
One way to assess whether your screen time is problematic is to be aware of warning signs. These fall into a number of categories.
- Physical (disrupted sleep, poor posture/hygiene/nutrition, eye strain, aches and pains in your neck, shoulders, or hands)
- Cognitive (forgetful, distracted, disorganized, unable to concentrate/set goals/complete tasks/make good decisions)
- Social (conflict with friends/family/coworkers, uncomfortable in social settings, poor social skills, withdrawn)
- Emotional (moody, stressed, angry, sad, euphoric online—depressed offline)
- Psychological (self-hating, use internet to escape problems, obsessed with social media, low self-esteem)
- Life balance (neglect responsibilities, poor academic or job performance, unable to stop or reduce screen time despite negative consequences)
Now, of course these warning signs could be the result of many factors that have nothing to do with screen time. A lot of people feel sad, angry, forgetful, distracted, achy, or out-of-sorts from time to time. But these signs have all been identified as potential consequences of, and clues for, excessive screen time. So, if you experience any of them frequently, intensely, or for an extended period of time, your screen scene is a good place to start in figuring out what’s going on.
The other part of this question asks about “the wrong kind” of screen time. What could make somebody’s screen time “the wrong kind”? Screen time, even a limited amount, is the wrong kind if it makes you often feel emotions such as guilt, shame, fear, envy, anger, or hatred; if it makes you do things you would never do in “real life”; if your online activities violate your values or harm your reputation. Screen time should enhance your offline life, your relationships, and your future options. It should make you feel confident, productive, proud, and in charge.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for online vegetating, goofing off, having fun, being silly, playing games, streaming movies, creating videos, you name it. I think social media can be GREAT! For some people. And that’s the big catch. The digital world affects everyone differently. Some people can go on Insta, or Snap with friends, and they’re in charge. Others go to the same sites and get sucked in for endless hours, and feel bad about it afterwards.
So, you have to look at your entire screen scene to determine whether your screen time is excessive and/or toxic.
I have a lot of fun challenges in Slaying Digital Dragons that will help you to recognize if you’re experiencing any warning signs of negative consequences from too much or the wrong kind of screen time. And if you are, and you want to reset your digital life for better online-offline balance, you can do so by learning how to “give yourself an App-endectomy.”