Kaarin Anderson Ryan
It seems like many people have been lamenting the rise in dependence and time spent on screens, both for adults and for kids. However, we all have a hard time keeping it limited. In this post and in the upcoming series of articles, I will highlight some of the problems with screens as well as possible solutions for kids, teens and adults.
Generally speaking, spending a lot of time on screens is not ideal, regardless of what you are doing on the device. Understandably, many of us are required to spend a significant amount of time on devices for work. These effects are exacerbated my additional time on devices before and after work. There are ways to minimize negative effects and these will be discussed in upcoming posts.
The way we hold our posture can be damaging, whether we are hunched over a keyboard or leaning our necks down to look at a phone or a tablet. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown differences in neck and spine alignment that is related to looking down at devices. In addition, physicians are reporting an increase in the number of teens and young adults who come in for office visits to address issues with neck pain.
Spending a lot of time on screens may inhibit personal social interaction. Using devices for texting and/or social media can be a very easy and effective way to communicate and stay in touch with others. It can be great for planning events and get-togethers. But, using devices in place of real human contact can be detrimental. I have heard numerous people say that after being isolated during the pandemic, they felt that they had lost social skills and confidence about being with others.
Does anyone feel like they have had a more difficult time with sustained attention in recent years? Not remembering things as well? Recent studies are showing that over-use of devices can have a negative impact on your brain. Using your phone for everything reduces your need to remember things yourself: Our phones can have our schedules and give us reminders, our phones have all our contacts at the tip of our fingers; we don’t need to memorize phone numbers to call people anymore; our phones have the internet so we can look up anything, anywhere, anytime; our phones have maps so we don’t need to pay as much attention to our location or how we got there; our phones literally have an app for everything. One study in The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” found that even when people were able to refrain from looking at their phones, they had reduced cognitive capacity when the phone was present.
There is so much to say about social media, including the benefits and harms of using these platforms. While there are certainly benefits to social media, there are also a tremendous number of problems associated with using social media. A report by Common Sense Media in 2019 shows that teens between 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours per day on social media. This in and of itself should be alarming to all of us. In addition to taking time away from family, engaging in real interpersonal conversation, and doing physical and outdoor activities, spending this much time using platforms like Instagram allow for one of the primary influences on teens to be an online world where truth and fiction are blurred. Some of the additional problems with social media include:
- Social media can be addicting. Getting likes and positive responses provides a bit of a dopamine rush, and social media sites are designed to target consumers to keep them connected.
- Fear of Missing Out. Social media sites emphasize all the fun and exciting things everyone is doing, encouraging people to keep checking to make sure they don’t miss out on anything.
- Bullying. Social media sites have been known to be a magnet for cyberbullying, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and in some cases to self harm or even suicide.
- Problems with self-image. Social media users tend to post the most flattering view of their physical appearance. Many platforms have filters that help people look unrealistically beautiful or fit. Seeing this all day can lead to low self-esteem when what someone sees in an actual mirror can’t compare to what is showing up on their feed from others.
Gaming can be fun and can be a good tool for socialization, if done in moderation. Nevertheless, excessive gaming can lead to serious problems. There are physical problems, including “gamer’s thumb”, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, eye strain and visual problems, and seizures. Excessive gaming may also be a factor in obesity. Gaming for some people may become an addiction that requires rehabilitation at a facility that removes access to games. Finally, gaming may include participation in excessively violent games. In some cases, it is possible that this may influence people to engage in violent behavior as the lines between gaming and reality can become blurred.
The internet is kind of a wild west when it comes to oversight and safety. It is pretty easy to find off-limit sites or to connect with people who may not be safe. Some of the risks of using the internet, especially for children and teens, include access to violent images or videos, access to sexually explicit content, or interaction with online “friends” who may actually be predators or people with bad intentions. Not only does the internet pose these risks to children and teens, there are also constant safety concerns about hacking, phishing, and identity theft.
Constant use of screens has had a negative impact on family time. As parents, we typically want to be the ones to help teach and guide our children, to share our values and interests, and to establish strong and healthy relationships with them. With screens and devices, we are effectively relinquishing much of this over to other influences. In the developmental psychology literature, it is commonly found that parental influence is primary in the earlier years of childhood, but that when children approach middle school the peer influence starts to become more powerful than the parental influence. This is why it is critical for parents to help their children learn values, respect and responsibility at an early age, with the expectation that these underlying characteristics will help them navigate the teen years in the most healthy way. By giving over so much of the childhood time to a screen, parents are reducing their opportunity to develop strong and healthy relationships with their child or instilling positive character and values.
Parenting can be exhausting and stressful. Parents often find that they are as dependent on their screens as their children. We often hear children complaining about their parents being on their phones all the time. In order to teach healthy screen habits, as parents and adults we must model healthy screen habits. This will not only benefit families, but it will also benefit parents by reducing many of the risks noted above that are correlated with using screens a little too much.
Stay tuned for some strategies to help overcome the challenges with screens!