10 Important Reasons You Need to Cut Back on Screen Time

Screen time. You know, all those hours you spend in front of your computer at work? Plus the time on your cell phone at lunch, and the TV you watch before you go to bed. It all adds up.

Unfortunately, research seems to show some significant negative effects of all the time we spend in front of our screens. While this is still a nascent field of academic study — we simply haven't had access to these devices for long enough to know exactly how they affect us — there seem to be some compelling reasons to make the effort to look at something other than a screen.

1. It's Bad for Your Health

Being in front of a screen is almost always sedentary behavior (unless, I suppose, you're on the treadmill). Because of this, it correlates with things like lower fitness levels and undesirable body composition.

Turn this around by choosing something active rather than watching TV or playing video games in your spare time. You don't have to kill yourself at the gym; you can take a walk, work on a project at home, or even garden.

2. It Hinders Your Brain's Performance

Kids do better in school when they have less screen time. Researchers aren't yet sure why this is true, but it probably has to do with the ways that technology teaches the brain to function. If you want to perform well in situations that involve memorization or problem solving (which are tasks that many kids perform in school), limit your screen time.

3. It Lowers Your Ability to Process Nonverbal Cues

When people are taken away from their screens, they seem to better process nonverbal cues. It makes sense that when you are mostly interacting with actual people, you get better at understanding emotional things they're trying to communicate.

Processing nonverbal cues well means that you're less likely to make awkward social mistakes, and also means that you might have more opportunities for social interaction and have an easier time making new friends.

4. It Messes Up Your Sleep

When teenagers have more than four hours of screen time per day, and especially when they use their screens in the hour before going to bed, they have trouble falling asleep. This can lead to a sleep deficit of up to two hours each night!

If you're not sleeping well, you will not only feel tired the next day, but it can hinder your performance at work or in school. It's worth the effort to use your screen less and get a little more rest.

5. It Reduces Your Ability to Plan Ahead

People who spend a lot of time in front of screens, and especially those who play video games a lot, have a loss of brain volume in their frontal lobes. If this happens to you, it lowers your ability to do a lot of things, among them the ability to plan ahead.

Most of us need to make plans in our daily lives. We plan everything from where to go to lunch tomorrow, to how much money we can spend this weekend, to what we want to do on vacation next year. It's important to have the healthiest frontal cortex that you can, in order to perform these tasks well.

6. It Makes Impulse Control Harder

If you spend so much time in front of a screen that you get addicted to being online, there are all sorts of negative effects. One of these is that you lose the ability to control your impulses. This means that you will be more likely to do things like spending money whenever you see something that you want, overeating on things that look good to you, and making hasty decisions that could negatively affect your future.

7. It Inhibits Communication Skills

People who spend more time online, especially young people, are more likely to struggle with communication. It seems that people who learn how to interact with others in online contexts don't necessarily develop the skills to interact outside of those specific structures. If interpersonal communication is important to you or part of your job, you will likely reap rewards if you spend less time in front of your screen.

8. It Can Make You Depressed

People who spend a lot of time in front of screens, specifically while watching TV, have a higher incidence of depression than those who choose to do other things with their time.

There are likely multiple reasons for this. If you choose to watch TV rather than interact with people, loneliness could cause the depression. TV also gives an unrealistic portrayal of how life should be and what you should look like, and comparing that to your real life can bring you down. Finally, TV can be violent and scary (and that's just the news!), which can lead people to an overall negative view of the world.

9. It Leads to Antisocial Behavior

When kids watch a lot of TV, they are more likely to have problems with antisocial behavior at some time in their lives. Note that this doesn't mean that they are necessarily antisocial as kids, but that this behavior can manifest as they grow older. Researchers aren't sure how time in front of the television leads to this behavior, but the correlation is strong enough that it seems like good motivation for limiting screen time for anyone.

10. It Means You're Almost Always Multitasking

When you're in front of a screen, you're usually multitasking. This means that a lot of screen time can lead to some of the same negative effects of multitasking, like a lack of focus or an inability to remember things because your brain is overstimulated. (See also: The Simple Way to Make Multitasking Actually Work)

If you must use a screen, try to do just that. Then, when you're done, move onto whatever you need to do next and leave the screen behind. Do one thing at a time so you can focus and remember.

Do you choose to limit your screen time? What positive effects have you noticed?

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Guest's picture

A wholehearted yes! The best part of stopping all that watching TV is that you'll discover hours in the day that you never knew you had. Instead of feeling so busy all the time, you actually get a break. Then, when you do watch something, it feels like more of a splurge and you actually enjoy it!