Screen Addiction: 5 Warning Signs You Should Watch Out For

Posted on Monday, October 19th, 2020 at 8:00 am    

A 2019 Pew Research Study shows that 81% of Americans now own smart phones, nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults now own a desktop or laptop computer, and roughly half own a tablet or e-reader device. If these numbers do not shock you, assumedly, it is because technology has become integrated in almost every facet of our lives; while most see this integration as an asset, some researchers are now warning that too much time in front of screens can cause “screen addiction” and could have a lasting effect on you and your family. Here are 5 warning signs that you or someone close to you may be experiencing screen addiction:

1. Loss of Interest in and/or Focus on Daily Activities

Would your child or loved one prefer to play video games or watch YouTube rather than play outside? Would you rather catch up on your favorite show or surf social media rather than head to the gym or get some work done? Chances are, you or someone close to you could be addicted to a device. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, in which they examined a random sample of 2-17 year old children and adolescents in the U.S., found that 1 hour or more of daily screen time was associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, and an inability to finish tasks. Unfortunately, the parents aren’t much better, as a number of adults report that phones and other devices have decreased their work productivity. Nearly 15% of adults say they often lose focus at work, because they are checking their cellphones. If the screens begin to pull you or others away from daily activities, you may be suffering from screen addiction.

2. Real Relationships Take a Back Seat to Virtual Ones

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center discovered a stunning finding that 51% of teens say they often or sometimes find their parent or caregiver to be distracted by their own cellphone when they are trying to have a conversation with them. That same study showed that nearly six out of ten adults regularly feel obligated to immediately respond to messages on their cellphones, regardless of where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. If you or someone you know feels more of a connection to what is on their phone than what is in front of them, there may be an issue with screen addiction.

3. Symptoms of Depression

Research suggests that the brain of someone playing video games or browsing social media shows an increased level of dopamine, a chemical present in reward processing and addiction. This release of dopamine is what draws both teens and adults to the over usage of technology in their lives. Adversely, some studies show that too much screen time can cause depression. A study of over a million U.S. 8th – 12th graders conducted by researchers at SDSU and the University of Georgia found that teens who spent more time in front screens were less happy than those who spent their time in non-screen activities, such as sports, reading books/magazines, and face-to-face social interaction. Some reasons for this could range from online bullying to comparing themselves to others on social media. Regardless of the reason, if you have noticed a change in mood or demeanor in yourself or someone close to you, there is a chance that screen usage played a role.

4. Decline in Empathy and/or Increase in Narcissism

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is believed to have played an important role in the evolution of our species. However, studies show that college students’ scores on multiple measures of empathy have seen the most significant drop in history at the same time that the world has seen the most significant increase in screens and technology. Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center, which sampled 100 college students, found those that posted often on social media scored higher on measures of narcissism. The jury is still out on whether screen usage is a direct correlation between a decrease in empathy and an increase in narcissism, but if you notice yourself or others starting to exhibit these symptoms, it may be time to look at the individual’s screen usage screen usage.

5. Suffering from Withdrawals

Another Pew Research Center study found that nearly 42% of teens reported feeling anxiety when not in the presence of their phones, 25% reported a feeling of loneliness, and another 24% reported a feeling of anger. Altogether, a massive 56% of teens report feeling a negative emotion in the absence of their cellphone. You may think these numbers are disheartening, but ask yourself: Would you suffer from withdrawals if you were without your phone? Iowa State University researchers have developed a questionnaire to help you determine whether you would:

  • I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
  • I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
  • I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate to family or friends.
  • I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.

If you agree with any of those statements, you may suffer from withdraws when you are without your phone, and it may be time to consider limiting your screen time.

What to Do Now?

If you or someone you know is suffering from screen addiction, researchers recommend trying tech-free dinners, no-tech periods throughout the day, and keeping your phone away from your nightstand. You can also increase your non-screen activities, such as recreation, sports, and face-to-face time with family, friends, and loved ones. If someone’s screen addiction has surpassed a comfortable level, and you feel simple time away from their device does not resolve the addiction, there are several services available, one of which includes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline, that can help.

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