What’s the first thing you think when you hear addiction? Alcohol? Pills? Cocaine? Food? What about a digital screen? We may chuckle and say “yeah, TV can be a bit addicting but it’s not that bad.” Well, I challenge you to start having a different view on TV, smart phone usage, and gaming.
According to a recent study American children (8-12 years old) spend an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes a day looking at screens, teenagers average 7 hours and 22 minutes a day, and adults spend an average of 11 hours a day. What else do we devote that much time to in our every day life? Sleep? Work (begrudgingly)? But that’s about it, right?
Whether it’s 4 hours or 11 hours, it’s a long time spent looking at a screen but how exactly is it harmful? Let’s take a closer look at what is actually happening to our bodies when we look at screens.
- Physical strain to eyes and body. Specifically retina damage, blurred vision, myopia, hunched posture, and stiffness/pain in shoulders and neck.
- Sleep deprivation. Blue light interferes with natural melatonin production.
- Increased risk of obesity. Looking at a screen typically involves being passive and sedentary, decreased physical activity, a desire to snack on junk food, and an increased desire for fast food due to commercials.
- Increased risk of chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased blood sugar levels and accumulation of fat in our bloodstream.
- Decreased cognitive ability. Our brain literally changes when we look at screens! We see a decreased amount of grey matter and deformity in white matter, which causes poorer neuro-connection, weaker memory recall, slower information recall, and weaker impulse control.
- Impaired socializing skills, anti-social tendencies and feelings of withdrawal.
- Weakened emotional judgment. Decreased ability in the brain to register and process emotions, desensitization to violent content, and increased aggression levels with exposure to violent media.
- Delayed learning in young children. Children learn better by physically exploring the world, not through passive observation.
When we settle into a new “binge-worth” TV show, start asking yourself if it is really worth it. Start thinking about it differently- not as a passive activity, but rather one that truly has an effect on our bodies, and seemingly not a positive one at that. It’s time to expand our repertoire of activities and stop using screens as our default!
There are some very helpful apps that help monitor your screen time and usage. I-Connect is a great app for students to monitor their own behavior. ZenScreen is a great app for adults that allows you to put time limits your screen usage. Space is a free app that allows you to track towards personal screen time usage goals and gives you awards for achieving those set goals!
This week I challenge you to set an alarm when you watch TV for 30 minutes. When that alarm goes off, turn off the TV (yes, even if the show isn’t over)! Instead of letting an hour to two drift past your eyes, use that free time to go for a walk outside, pull out that book you’ve been meaning to finish, start journaling, or make a cup of tea and turn on a relaxing audio!