Screen time effects on health and wellbeing from childhood to adulthood.

It’s not really a surprise finding out that people spend an average of 10 hours a day using screens.  Given that we are spending so much time on screens its good to know how this is affecting your health.  Screen time affects us differently from childhood through to adulthood, so I will talk about the affects for each stage of life.

Screen time effects

Here are some of the ways screen time might be affecting your health:

Adults

  • Vision: Staring at the screen for long hours can strain your eyes, give you blurred vision, dry eyes and headaches. Looking down at your phone for long periods or having bad posture at the computer can cause neck, back, and shoulder pain.
  • Sleep: The blue light from digital devices supresses the sleep promoting hormone melatonin, which effects our quality of sleep if computers or mobile phones are used for long periods.
  • Promotes addiction: Research has found that video games and social media interactions stimulate the region of the brain linked to cravings in a similar way drugs and gambling addiction affects your brain.
  • Depression: There is a significant association between screen time and depression. Adults that use more than 6 hours of screen time per day are more at risk of having depression.  
  • Overall health: When hours are spend sitting down watching our screen this increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. A recent research found that sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of cancer by 66%.

Tweens and teens

Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to screen time as their brain is going through major transformations which effects brain function and emotional wellbeing.

  • Learning: Teenagers are twice as likely to suffer from attention disorders if a lot of time is spent on TV and video games. 
  • Social skills: The internet can provide a barrier for kids to hide behind when confronted by challenging situations rather than stretching themselves and learning new social skills that they get from confronting a situation in person. For example, they are more likely to ask a person out for a date online then they would in person.
  • Psychological challenges: Kids who logged more than 2 hours a day in front of a computer or TV screens were more likely to have psychological challenges and young adults who play violent video games are linked to more aggressive and less sensitive behaviour towards other people. Also, the internet and gaming addiction can shrink the part of the brain responsible for planning and executive functions. 
  • Sleep: Research suggests that 16-19 years old who are on screens for 4 hours or more are 50 per cent more like to lay awake at night for an hour or more before they are able to fall asleep.
  • Overall health: The effects to this age group are similar to adults and studies have found that kids who watch more TV are likely to have higher cholesterol and blood pressure. 

Note: For further information on the screening effects on teenagers, there is a good documentary called “Screenagers” that is worth watching. 

Young children.

The baby sitter for 21 century seems to be screens as busy working parents have found it’s a great way to keep busy kids minds occupied and quiet. 

  • Learning: Kids learn better from face to face interactions and there is no proven educational or developmental benefit from kids using screens. Screen time takes away from unstructured play time which is important for learning and developing problem solving skills.
  • Speech: The time spent on screens has replaced kids time spent interacting with caregivers and family which is where children get most of the learning and speech skills.
  • Emotional development: There are concerns that keeping kids occupied by screens during shopping and outings is preventing them from learning how to develop emotional regulation so they can manage boredom, distress and other difficult emotions.
  • Vision: In recent years there has been an increase in short-sightedness and this may be due to kids getting a lack of sunlight because kids are ‘glued’ to screens indoors.
  • Sleep: Screen use can cause sleep disturbances in young children too, especially if they sleep near a screen device. An interesting study found that children sleeping near a screen device sleep 20 minutes less and aren’t getting sufficient sleep. 
  • Weight: The more screen time children have the more likely they are to be overweight because they are eating and staying indoors rather than being active.
  • Behavioural issues: Children can get a build up of energy when they are sitting for long periods which can translate into children feeling frustrated and act out as a way of managing their frustrations. 

Overall, there is a common theme that screen time effects our psychological and physical health from childhood to adulthood and the effects can depend on the age, sex, characteristics of the person and media, the format (TV, smartphone, Xbox etc), frequency, content (research articles, pornography, chatrooms etc).  In my next blog I will post strategies in how to mitigate some of the effects screen time.

Written by: Kimberley Aguet Virtual Psychologist – Counsellor

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