According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, screen time is “a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer or playing video games.” Children and adults can benefit from these activities, but too much screen time can be harmful.
It can be difficult to limit the amount of time a person spends using digital devices. According to Nielsen’s Q1 2016 Mobile Kids Report, “slightly less than half (45%) of mobile kids got a service plan at 10-12 years old.” The ability to communicate and track their child’s location were among the top reasons that parent respondents said that they give their children a service plan. But because parents may not have the ability or the time to monitor what their child views on their cellphone during the day, it can be difficult to establish guidelines regarding screen time.
The problem of too much screen time isn’t limited to children. After leaving work, an adult can use digital devices to communicate with colleagues or accomplish tasks. This can impair their relationships and mental health. “The most extreme threat is so-called burnout,” according to the BBC. Linh Le, an associate partner at Elia Consulting who the BBC quotes, describes burnout as “physical, psychological and emotional distress caused by a total inability to rest.” Even though there are known risks regarding too much screen time for adults, employers may put pressure on workers to stay in touch after the workday ends through continued use of digital devices.
While it’s sometimes difficult for children and adults to limit their screen time, the following screen time recommendations can help individuals as they try to manage their use of digital devices.
Screen Time Facts and Statistics
Due to the accessibility and widespread use of digital devices, people may not understand the negative effects of too much screen time. Before exploring specific screen time recommendations, it’s important to understand the impact of too much screen time.
Screen Time for Children
- Poor quality screen time is linked to health afflictions. [Mayo Clinic]
Screen time benefits children, such as when they use digital devices to learn about new concepts. But too much, or the wrong types of screen time, like several hours spent watching TV or playing video games each day, has been linked to poor social skills and health ailments, such as obesity, irregular sleep patterns and behavioral problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- More than half of teens said they spend too much time on their cellphones. [Pew Research Center]
According to a 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center, over 70% of teen respondents said they check for messages or notifications “as soon as they wake up.” The survey also found that “roughly nine in 10 teens view spending too much time online as a problem facing people their age, including 60% who say it is a major problem.”
- Too much screen time can hurt a child’s developmental abilities. [TIME]
Based on findings from a report in JAMA Pediatrics, too much screen time can lead to poor progress in a child’s “communication skills, problem solving and social interactions among young kids over time.”
Screen Time for Adults
- Almost 50% of an adult’s day is spent consuming media content. [Nielsen]
In 2018, adults spent on average 11 hours per day consuming media, including live TV, smartphone apps and radio.
- There’s an association between screen time and depression for adults. [Preventive Medicine Reports]
TV watching and computer use outside work or school were “associated with moderate or severe depression among U.S. adults,” according to the findings in a cross-sectional study conducted by Preventive Medicine Reports. “The finding of this screen time study suggests that screen time is a significant risk factor or a marker of mental disorders among U.S. adults.”
- Too much screen time can lead to increased mental health and life risks. [National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)]
According to NAMI, these risks can include social isolation, cyberbullying and decreased life satisfaction.
Screen Time Recommendations for Students
While children and students may be aware about the risks of too much screen time, they may not know how to limit and manage their use of digital devices. These screen time recommendations can help benefit them now and in the future.
Place limits on screen time.
Even when parents are fully aware of the negative effects of too much screen time, they may not be able to limit or manage their children’s time spent on cellphones, computers, TVs and tablets. Students can set consistent limits to stop themselves from potentially experiencing negative screen time effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for children 6 and older, screen time not “take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.” In addition to placing limits on screen time, children and students should also strive to make sure they’re physically active. The American Cancer Society suggests that children engage in a minimum of one hour of “moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least three days each week.”
Express emotions and feelings through other activities
Social media has made it easy for children and students to share their thoughts and feelings to a wide digital audience. But the AAP recommends that regarding screen time, they develop additional ways of expressing or addressing their emotions beyond digital media use.
Children and students need to know “how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem and finding other strategies for channeling emotions,” according to the AAP.
Screen Time Recommendations for Parents and Adults
Realize that each child’s screen time needs can be different
Even though too much screen time has been linked to negative health effects, screen time itself isn’t necessarily harmful. Additionally, while there are general guidelines for limiting or managing children’s screen time, the needs for a given child can be different.
“It is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family. … We suggest that age-appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child that everyone in the family understands,” recommends Dr. Max Davie, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Serve as a positive screen time role model
Parents can set a strong example for their children by limiting their own screen time when away from work. This can include setting specified periods at home when no members of the family are allowed to be on digital devices, or encouraging members to participate in group activities that don’t involve screen time.“Remember that children watch and copy their parents, so they are learning how to use smartphones even when parents do not realize it,” according to an article from JAMA Pediatrics. “Avoid behaviors you don’t want your kids to have: checking your phone while driving, posting unkind content or ignoring someone else’s calls for your attention while your eyes are on the phone.”
Screen Time Recommendations for Teachers When Working with Students
Use screen time for research purposes
In a survey from Education Week, 88% of principals said they prefer students to “use a device to conduct research, compared to 10% who prefer paper and pencil.” However, for other school activities, like taking standardized tests or practicing new math concepts, their preference is for students to use paper and pencil rather than digital devices. Conducting research, though, is by far the activity for which school leaders believe using a device with a screen is most beneficial.
Use screen time to build long-distance relationships
In an article for USA Today, Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, notes the benefit of technology that puts “new relationships within reach for students.” Dubbed “edtech that connects,” she says this application of certain digital tools enables students to create relationships with peers across the world or even engage with experts in other fields. Fisher adds, “This type of technology allows schools to transcend geographic, logistical and time barriers, giving students access to connections otherwise out of schools’ reach.”
Incorporate screen time when preparing for in-classroom lessons
Just as screen time itself isn’t necessary dangerous or damaging, screen time can be used to benefit both teachers and students. Scholastic lists several helpful websites for teachers, including resources that provide guidance on covering specific subjects.
For teachers, parents and students, the key to successful use of screen time is balance. Children and adults should carefully manage and monitor their amount of screen time and determine if their use of digital devices is beneficial to themselves and their loved ones.