Updated: Jun 18, 2021
Author: Ioannes Salamanes
Editor: Shannon Tan
Artist: Susan Wu
In our day and age, technology is becoming increasingly accessible and many new technological advances are created every day. Right now, you’re likely reading this on a phone, tablet, laptop, or computer. Take a look around. If you’re at home, you probably have a TV in your living room and maybe even in your own bedroom. If you’re out and about, people around you might be checking their phones or calling someone. Technology constantly surrounds us, whether we realize it or not.
The average screen time per day is constantly increasing, especially among teens and school-aged students. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students around the world have had to do online school to prevent the spread of the virus. While this is necessary for public health reasons, students are required to attend online calls for their classes, which can add up to many hours in front of a computer. School itself takes around 6 hours every day, not including the time students use to complete their homework and assignments, and most kids also like to spend some time in front of a screen for leisure, whether that be watching shows or movies, checking social media, or communicating with their friends. We all know that technology is a very important part of our day-to-day lives, but what exactly is screen time doing to our brains?
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 54 percent of teens between the ages of 13-17 were concerned about how much time they spent on their phones or online in general. 52% of teens in the U.S. reported that they had been taking steps to spend less time on mobile phones, 57% have reported attempting to spend less time on social media, and 58% have reported cutting back on the amount of time spent on video games. The study also showed that 36% of parents reported that they spend too much time on their smartphones. From these findings, it is pretty accurate to say that most people are addicted to their screens. Computers and phones have only been easily accessible in the past 30 years, thus, research is being conducted to find out the emotional and physical effects our screen time might be causing, as we do not know exactly what the long term effects that technology has on the brains of adults and kids. However, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study by the National Institute of Health found that because children’s brains are still in the process of growing and developing, it is likely that they are being highly affected by technology. The study followed 11,000 kids aged 9 to 10 in 21 different areas all over the United States.
The initial results of the research showed that children with more than 2 hours of screen time per day scored lower on language and thinking tests, and MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of children who have reported using tablets, smartphones, and video games for more than 7 hours a day. Considering these results, it is scary to think about how it will take many more years to discover whether these differences were caused by screen time or some other factor.
Children are not the only ones who are possibly being affected by the amount of time spent looking at screens, adults are also being affected. The average adult has a screen time of 10 hours per day and because most of the time spent looking at screens is spent sitting down, this high screen time is also linked to sleep problems and higher obesity rates, which can lead to diabetes. Did you know that 15 percent of adults reported that they lose focus at work because of their cellphones? That’s twice the number of teens who lose focus in class for the same reason. According to Pew Research, 51 percent of teens have also reported that their parents often get distracted by their phones during conversations, which leads to the child feeling unimportant.
Researchers in a 2018 population-based study by Twenge and Campbell found that “increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being”. They also found that “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression”. According to Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. in a Psychology Today article, “many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time -- internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming -- isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.” Aside from just the psychological and physical effects, spending too much time on social media can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and problems with social skills and their application, for both adults and children. Children who spend too much time online often suffer from loneliness, anxiety, and depression, especially because they can be bullied online and their parents would have no idea.
Kids spend an average of 5 to 7 hours each day using screens for entertainment, which is two and a half hours a day more than 10 years ago. Children of this generation face more depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues than any of the older generations. Of course, many factors are contributing to this, but screen time is one of the major ones. The National Institute of Health has associated a high daily screen time with being more difficult to care for, inability to finish tasks, less curiosity, less emotional stability, lower self-control, more difficulty making friends, and more distractibility. Distractions caused by screen time also mean less time for face-to-face time with peers, family interactions, homework, and physical activity. These social interactions are necessary and without them, kids will grow up unable to cope and unprepared, which can create an unhealthy environment for their mental well-being.
“How Does Screen Time Affect Kids' Mental Health?” Rogers Behavioral Health,
Rosen, Dr. Andrew. “How Much Is Too Much? Technology, Screen Time, And Your Mental
Health.” The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, 20 Jan. 2020,