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The Impact of Increased Screen Time on the Mental Health of Young Adults

Written by Charlotte Turner, Media Analytics Executive

Today’s world of technology is increasingly growing and changing in order to conform to the fundamental need for social connection. As more people around the globe have adapted to technology, the amount of time spent looking at screens has also elevated. According to the 2022 Digital Information World study, the average time spent using screens globally has increased by 30 percent since 2019. The average screen time for all global technology users is now almost seven hours (Howarth, 2022).

Especially after going through the COVID-19 pandemic, young adults throughout the world have become more addicted to their screens and technology. Due to the transition to online and virtual forms of communication, young adults all across the world have become more dependent on their screens.

Screen time refers to the amount of time spent and the diverse activities performed online using digital devices. This means that screen time can encompass multiple areas of technology usage: work purposes, education purposes, leisure time, social media, and gaming (Kemp, 2021).

As a young adult, I have seen the increase in screen time among my generation firsthand. Almost all of my life, communication, and leisure time is spent on screens. From a PewResearch study, Generation Z spends around 9 hours a day on average using screens. This is almost 2 hours more than the global average. Generation Z heavily relies on screens in their daily lives and activities.

According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s New Policy Report for 2020, excessive screen time is reported to be associated with a range of negative mental health outcomes such as psychological problems, low emotional stability, and greater risk for depression or anxiety. These negative effects have plagued the population of young adults in America.

Among young adults, high users of screens (7+ hours/day) were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, treated by a mental health professional, or have taken medication for a psychological or behavioral issue in the last 12 months (Twenge et al., 2018). The same study stated non-users and low users were not shown to have any differences in their well-being due to screen usage. This shows there is a positive correlation between screen time and mental health crises among users.

In addition to mental health issues, users’ physical health can be affected by screen time usage. The Mayo Clinic Health System 2021 research study finds that too much screen time can lead to sleep deprivation, obesity, higher susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes, and impaired academic performance.

As a society, in order to combat the multiple side effects and issues associated with screen time, we must strive to be less “plugged in.” There are easy ways for users to step away from screens and minimize the impacts that they have on their physical and mental health.

But, in order to fight back against screen time usage, we must understand how we are using our screens analytically. Many cell phone providers have analytical data within their algorithms that track your screen time and phone usage. After addressing how much time you spend looking at your screen and what platforms you use, it is easier to contest the issue.

An easy way to combat the problem of high screen time is by setting time limits for certain apps, websites, and other screen-viewed content. Almost all phone providers allow their customers to set time limits for apps. Users can lock these time limits and set personalized passwords to unlock the content after the time has been used. Along with setting time limits, incorporating downtime away from your device is a simple way to lessen screen time. Many cell phone providers also allow the option of setting specific times throughout the day when the user cannot access their device.

As a media analytics executive at Live Oak Communications, I understand the importance of knowing my personal screen time usage. I set up time limits for certain apps and turn off my notifications on my cell phone in order to protect myself from the harmful effects of too much screen time. I find myself using my devices less and living more present in my day-to-day life. I have seen many more positive impacts by reducing my screen time.

For more helpful tips and tricks to lessen your screen time, visit the list in the Unplugged blog “My intention for 2022: Reducing screen time and tethering to real-life experiences” by digital strategist Katie Overmonds.

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