Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much?

– Have you ever kept track of how much time you
spend looking at a screen? Like, actually log what
you’re doing and for how long? Well, that’s what I did
over the last few days. And on an average day, I spent
about an hour on Instagram, way too much time on
Twitter, over three hours, and a little over an
hour or so on Netflix. So, in total, I’m spending
over five hours every day in front of a screen, and that’s not counting text
messages or listening to music. That’s literally a quarter
of my day every day. So, what’s all this
screen time doing to me? Well, I asked who I always ask, Google, and the results fell into two buckets. The first bucket blamed
smartphones, video games, and social media for increases in depression, anxiety, and even obesity. The second bucket said that screen use might help improve how
we feel about ourselves by keeping us connected with people. So, what does the scientific research say? Is all this screen time really bad for us? Okay, first things first. Screen time as a term isn’t that useful because it doesn’t really tell you what you’re doing on the screen. It’s kinda like if someone
asked you what you had for lunch and you say, “Food.” That doesn’t really provide any real info. And not all screen time is created equal. Context matters. Spending four hours
creating a video for YouTube is way different than spending four hours watching cat videos. How you feel about and how you process each of those situations
won’t be the same, so lumping them under screen
time doesn’t make much sense. If researchers wanna figure out what spending so much time on
our screens is doing to us, they need to break down a few variables. What’s the specific screen activity? Are we passively scrolling
and looking at pictures or are we commenting and posting? How long and how often
are we on the screen? Because there’s so much to untangle, the research is kinda all over the place. You can find individual studies
that support and contradict just about every conclusion
linking screen time and health. To quote the director of the
National Institutes of Health, the research is, “Quite limited,
has not been conclusive, “and further study is needed.” That’s why it’s crucial to
look over our body of research to identify trends. All right, so let’s get to it. Our digital lives can take
a physical toll on us, and I’ll be the first to admit. I’m usually on my phone
right before I go to bed, even though multiple studies have shown that that leads to bad sleep. And we all know what can
happen without enough sleep. Concentrating on things is
hard, you can get irritable. I sorta walk away like a zombie and sometimes me no make when
I talk I, (pausing) sense? Hmm. And it’s not just me. In 1991, 26% of teens
were getting less than the doctor-recommended seven
hours of sleep a night. Today, that number is over 40%. Now, that doesn’t mean you can
place the blame on screens, but that same study did find that teens who spent five hours a day online were 50% more likely to not sleep enough than those who only spent
an hour online each day. Hmm. I’m skeptical though. Who are those people
that say they only spend an hour online a day and why
are they lying to researchers? Doesn’t make sense, doesn’t add up. Some researchers even
use the term addiction when talking about how we
interact with our devices. Whether it’s video games or waiting for a like
on an Instagram post, we get caught in short-term
dopamine-driven feedback loops where we get a quick pleasure boost but then constantly crave the next one. Now, there’s a lotta
debate on whether or not this stuff is a bonafide
addiction like gambling. And if you wanna learn more about that, check out our video that
looks into whether or not video game addiction is real. One study in 2017 found that
the more time people spend in front of screen, the more
it affected their wellbeing. Their chances of developing depression and suicidal thoughts went up. It was all the ammo the news media needed to fuel the panic about screen time. But that one study is just one study. Another group of researchers came along and looked at the same data and asked, “Is there really a link between
screen time and depression? “And if so, how strong is that link?” They found that screen time
is correlated with depression, but that correlation is really small. In fact, it was the same as
eating potatoes regularly. The correlation between wearing glasses and depression was even stronger. And we’re not seeing headlines
worrying about potatoes and glasses ruining an entire generation, so maybe screen time in general is less important than we think. The connection between
screen time and health gets a little bit clearer when you look at how people
are using their screens. It’s not just about quantity,
it’s also about the quality. Passive screen time,
things like watching TV or scrolling through your Instagram feed, is usually associated the negative stuff like depression, moodiness,
anxiety, and even laziness. Active screen time, stuff that engages you
physically or cognitively, can actually be helpful. Screens also allow us to
stay connected with people. With technology like FaceTime, I could talk to my best friend who’s on the other side
of the country, right now. Now, sure, some people have to
deal with feeling overwhelmed because of drama or feeling
pressure to only post a highlight reel of themselves to make them look good to others. But in many studies, a majority of teens say that social media mainly helps the relationships they already have with their friends. And almost 60% have met
a new friend, like me. I just recently visited a homie in Canada who I’ve known online
for like seven years, so that was pretty awesome. Shoutout to Shannon. (laughing) And when you look at stuff
like multiplayer video games, Twitch streams, or Reddit,
wandering around online allows you to find your tribe. If you don’t quite fit in where you live or you live in a small
or isolated community, quality screen time might be
essential to keeping you sane. So, what do you think? What screen activities do you value? And what do you wanna cut out? Let us know in the comments below. Oh, we wanna give a shoutout
to Common Sense Education, who we collabed with on this episode. Thanks a lot, guys. And we have two more episodes
with them coming out, so stay tuned for those. And if you’re a teacher,
check us out on KQED Learn. ‘Til next time, guys, peace out.