In today’s digital world, we almost can’t help being in front of a screen at all times. Think about how much you rely on your smartphone to complete everyday tasks. From setting an alarm to scheduling an appointment on your calendar to navigating to your next destination, there are many practical reasons to use your phone. Not to mention email, social media, music, and games. We can easily stay plugged-in for most of the day with smartphones, tablets, and laptops facilitating the majority of our information consumption.
Most of us can acknowledge that screen addiction is unhealthy, but we don’t often think about what it’s actually doing to our brains. So, how does being constantly plugged-in affect our mental health?
Teenagers today, or anyone born between 1995 and 2005, have never known life without smartphones. According to Lakeside Behavioral Health System, this “iGeneration” has been informed and shaped by the introduction of digital technology and social media. They are always connected and depend on screen time for daily activity. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research report found that 73% of teens ages 13-17 have a smartphone or access to one. Not only do the majority of teenagers have a smartphone, but more than 50% say they are addicted to their phones and can’t function without them.
Due to this addiction, teenagers are now interacting via faceless communication, where they’d prefer to text or send messages on social media rather than talk to someone in person. This deindividuated approach allows for greater anonymity and isolation and takes away opportunities to practice social skills. The anonymity involved spurs online bullying, as teenagers are less inhibited to say hurtful things to each other when they’re behind their phones.
Sleep deprivation is another side effect of screen addiction among teenagers. Between 2012 and 2015, 22% of teenagers did not get seven hours of sleep per night, primarily due to stimulation from their phone screen lights. That glowing light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that supports sleep. Scrolling through a phone before bed can make it harder to fall asleep, and this lack of sleep can lead to trouble in school, slower reaction times when driving, and mood swings.
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Depression as a side effect
All of these byproducts of screen addiction can contribute to depression among those who are addicted. Cyberbullying negatively impacts individuals’ self-esteem and self-worth, and lack of face-to-face relationships can lead to loneliness. Additionally, sleep deprivation can ultimately be a cause of depression and feelings of lifelessness.
A Monitoring the Futures survey found that teens who spend more time than average on non-screen activities tend to be happier than those who don’t. Stepping away from the screen can be a true lifestyle change with long-term mental benefits.
Preventing screen addiction
So, how can you prevent yourself or your children from becoming addicted to your screens? It starts by setting some ground rules for phone use and sticking to them.
Some rules include:
- Designate specific times for your children to go outside. Set a reminder on your phone if you have to, and when it goes off, put the phone down and send the kids outside. Better yet, set an example by going outside with them.
- Identify phone-free zones in your house. The kitchen is a good place to start. If your family wants to eat, they need to put their phones down and take time to enjoy meals.
- Set electronic curfews. This means when the clock strikes nine (or eight or ten), phones are collected and put away for the night. Instead of scrolling through Instagram before bed, encourage your kids to read a book, write in a journal, or draw.
In addition to setting screen rules, it’s important to talk with your children about healthy phone use. This is a way to learn more about their phone interactions and ensure they understand the dangers of cyberbullying and communication with strangers. Establish regular check-ins with your kids to maintain an ongoing conversation about their phone safety.
Ultimately, preventing screen addiction starts with you. Your kids see how often you’re connected to your phone, so be sure to set the right example for them. If you need to, set daily or weekly goals for reducing your own screen time and keep track of your progress in this area. Also, consider deleting any apps that are taking up too much of your time. It may be tough at first, but, in time, you’ll feel a sense of freedom from not always being plugged in.
Constant online access does provide us many benefits, especially in terms of the speed at which we’re able to gather and distribute information. There’s no doubt that smartphones allow us to move more quickly and efficiently. But, there are many downsides to being plugged-in at all times. When you’re aware of these side effects, you can take the proper steps for you and your family to have a healthy relationship with technology.