Last week I received a text from my 14-year-old daughter at school, requesting more screen time. I ignored her request because she is allotted a reasonable amount of time on her apps, so most likely it was time for her to take a break anyway. Additionally, she was at school and had been since 7:30 am, so I was concerned with how she could have already used up her time by 11:00 am.
She was clearly talking about it among her friends because a few minutes later, my phone started vibrating and beeping with more texts. She had sent me photos of her friends’ average daily screen usage to show me how unreasonable her two hours a day limit was. The photos blared back at me the following daily usage times from her friends:
6 hours, 5 minutes
7 hours, 23 minutes
5 hours, 22 minutes
6 hours, 59 minutes
These averages were during a normal school week. They did not include time on T.V. or computers, only average screen times on their phone.
We know screen usage is on the rise, and while this was a small sample of friends, it felt more personal seeing the evidence that these kids, who I’ve known since elementary school, are spending the majority of their day on their phones. And it’s not just kids. Although my average is much lower, I’m constantly fighting the temptation to spend hours on my phone. I understand the struggle.
However, like many things that are easy to overdo, it’s important to maintain balance with our devices in order to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Perhaps we need to periodically take a screen fast to reset ourselves and remind us of the things that bring us true joy.
Devices are not making us happier. The research is alarming. Over the past two years, several studies have been performed on how they are changing our culture. We see the following:
**In a Canadian study published in April 2019, researchers found kids who used screens for more than two hours a day exhibited significant behavioral issues like poor ability to focus, poor behavior, anxiety and depression. (Tamana, Sukhpreet K.; et al. Plos One, April 2019).
** In March 2019, a study concluded that excessive screen time can lead to developmental delays in children. (Madigan, Shri, et al. Pediatrics, March 2019).
** In July 2017, scientists found students in the UK between the ages of 9–10 who spent more than three hours per day on screens were more likely to show signs of insulin resistance (Nightingale, Claire M.; et al. Archives of Disease in Childhood, July 2017).
**Researchers have found a relationship between poor sleep and screen usage (LeBourgeois, Monique K.; et al. Pediatrics, November 2017).
**The most frightening study was the relationship between screen time and depression. According to one study, there was, “a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes…and non-screen activities with lower levels.” (Twenge, Jean M.; et al. Clinical Psychological Science, January 2018).
Increased device usage is having a negative effect on our wellbeing. This is nothing new. Scientists have been telling us that for a while now. However, what frustrates me about human nature is how we can know something is leading us to unhappiness and poor physical and mental health, yet we do it anyway. We’ve got to somehow find a way to integrate healthy habits so we can reclaim our personal happiness. Screen fasting is a great way to do this. There are different ways to consciously pull back on our devices. Here are some ideas:
The first is having a vacation from devices, T.V.s, and computers. It doesn’t matter if you take a proper vacation or a staycation, having a defined period of time at least twice a year to have a week, or even two to recharge your own battery by taking a break from work, news, social media or computer browsing is priceless. Even if you can’t take a break from work, simplifying other aspects of your life will help tremendously.
The other is having a regular time period where screens are off. In our house, we practice being device-free when we have meals. We also park our devices when we have something to do so that we practice full attention to our responsibilities rather than constantly diverting attention to our phones.
We designate “Screen-Free Thursdays.” Of course, we must have our phones available for important phone calls, and even texts, but otherwise, we try to use Thursday for catching up on housework or getting out for a walk on the beach, or cooking a meal together. It doesn’t have to be Thursday for you, it could be any day of the week, but it is good to practice having a day where you are free from the complexities that come with a plugged-in life.
As the culture becomes increasingly complex, it is important to understand what aspects of technology and entertainment are bringing us to a better place. For instance, we know screens are making us and our kids more anxious, distracted and is hurting our sleep and physical wellbeing. These things don’t happen in the short term, it is an accumulation that happens over time. Screen fasting not only helps us have designated time to take a break, but it also helps us, and our children practice healthy habits and take charge of our happiness.