How Screen Time Affects Mental Health

How Screen Time Affects Mental Health

When’s the last time you checked the screen time report on your smart devices? Although social media and other apps can have their benefits, too much screen time can also impact mental wellness. If you are concerned about the amount of time that you (or your children) have been spending on devices or watching television lately, check out these screen time facts and tips for improving your daily screen intake (and your mental health)! 

Just how social is social media?

Connecting with friends and family has been made much simpler with the advent of social media and smartphones. Especially for those with loved ones across the country or even the world, maintaining those relationships through video calls and social media communication is easier than ever. In fact, a 2019 study from Michigan State found that adults on social media were less likely to suffer from psychosocial distress, which is a frequent symptom of major depression and anxiety. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has also reviewed a number of supportive apps for mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and PTSD that can offer real-time support for those in need. However, we don’t want to allow virtual connections to stand in the way of relationships with those nearby or the potential opportunity for in-person counseling. Telehealth technology has made huge strides, especially for mental healthcare and in rural areas, but it can sometimes be harder to form connections with a health provider virtually, and it can also open you up to privacy risks. 

Screen time cravings and self esteem

Although maintaining relationships can be a major benefit of social media, the need for approval online can turn into an addiction. Mental health experts have found that receiving notifications for texts or “likes” and comments on social media can release dopamine, the same motivational brain chemical that is linked to getting a good workout, tasting an appetizing food or having a positive social interaction. Although it doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, this sense of validation can become an harmful craving that has users putting social media over in-person interactions and other healthier activities. 

Mindless scrolling and passively looking at posts from those we may not have a close connection to can also have a big impact on our self esteem. We often find ourselves comparing our lives to what we see others posting on social media, bringing down our self esteem and perceived worth. It’s very important to remember that what gets posted on social media is just a very small and curated view of what is happening in other people’s lives. Unfortunately, this can be especially hard for children and adolescents to understand, so setting up screen limits to prevent constant scrolling can prove beneficial. 

Screen time for children and teens

For children and teens, screen time is something to take even more seriously. Of course, in the age of technology we live in, some amount of screen time is inevitable, and can be especially beneficial for school projects and educational purposes. However, in a study on the associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being, it was found that “high users of screens were significantly more likely to display poor emotion regulation (not staying calm, arguing too much, being difficult to get along with), an inability to finish tasks, lower curiosity, and more difficulty making friends.” 

The caregivers of these children and adolescents in the “high user” category of 7+ hours a day also described them as “difficult to care for and as lower in self-control.” The study found that more than 1 hour of screen time per day began to progressively impact psychological well-being, and the associations were more visible among adolescents compared to younger children. 

Setting good screen time boundaries

It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents set a good example by setting their own screen time limits, do the research on proper content for each age level, and preserve family relationships with screen-free areas of the house and times of day, such as bedtime. Research shows that screen time before bed can have negative impacts on both children and adults, and is associated with “worsening of many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.” Turning off devices at least 15-30 minutes prior to bedtime, and even charging them in another room, can improve “sleep hygiene.”

Screen time and technology does not have to be an “all or nothing” situation, especially when you are setting screen time limits with your family. Take the time to think about the pros and cons in your own life, and decide on some appropriate time limits and guidelines you can begin to honor. Both Androids and iPhones have a native screen time report option where you can review how often you (or your child) have been using the device and set time limits, plus there are a number of downloadable apps to set better boundaries and potentially improve your overall mental wellness. 

If you are in need of support for your family’s screen time and mental health concerns, contact our Support Navigators today at 317-468-4231 and check out our list of local resources!