Why too much screen time can be harmful

We investigate why too much screen time can be harmful for us – and especially for our children.

Wednesday, 3 April, 2024

The internet is a wonderful thing, and home broadband has enabled us all to experience and achieve things which were never possible before the World Wide Web was developed.

Yet an excess of anything can ultimately be damaging.

Our addiction to the internet is manifesting in various ways – obsessions with how many likes we get on social media, compulsions to gamble or play games, TikTok addictions…

We’ve embraced the digital world with childlike enthusiasm, often choosing to overlook the true cost of free online services, or how our brains are being altered by constant screen time.

It’s worth taking a few moments to consider what too much screen time might be doing to us – and why it’s so important to spend more time offline…

Picture the scene

Go into any restaurant these days, and you’ll see families all staring intently at screens instead of savouring the food they’re eating – let alone talking to each other.

Go to any concert, and the first ten rows will have phones in the air, livestreaming and decorating their micro-broadcasts with emojis or banal comments, rather than simply enjoying the show.

Phones are routinely checked during cinema screenings, business meetings, grocery shopping, driving and – even at night when a notification wakes us from sleep.

We’re all addicted, and that suits the tech companies just fine.

The more time we spend on social media, the more data they harvest. The more we use our phones, the quicker they’ll need replacing. The more cash we spend on freemium services, the bigger those companies’ profits.

Yet the true cost is the tidal wave of mental health concerns sweeping across developed nations – a tsunami of anxiety, agoraphobia, insomnia, isolation and depression.

Perhaps most concerningly, we’re allowing our children to sleepwalk into this new digital universe without any appreciation of how they may be impacted by it.

Too much screen time can physically rewire developing brains to crave dopamine hits like digital drug addicts.

Many parents give their kids mobile devices too young, with insufficient oversight and few boundaries, because it’s an easier option – and because ‘all their friends have one’.

What can we do about this?

We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but our politicians need to try to regulate their way towards a more balanced relationship with tech.

Banning mobile phones in schools would be a good start, as would banning or heavily regulating the use of apps by under-16s.

However, we can’t expect kids to make sacrifices we’re not willing to endure ourselves. Parents must set an example by reducing screen time – and openly discussing digital dangers.

We need a national discussion about the harm caused by social media, now that trolling, religious abuse and no-platforming have become almost routine.

Many people unwittingly find themselves trapped in algorithm-powered echo chambers on social media platforms, which lock out dissenting opinions or moderating influences.

Social media is repressing swathes of society using fake news, intimidation, deepfakes and incitement to collective action.

The best way to counteract this is by approaching the internet less indiscriminately, and with more respect.

Eating a meal while looking at your phone means you’re not fully concentrating on (or enjoying) either activity. It also sets a bad example for children who learn through observation.

Reducing screen time to more manageable levels also brings huge health benefits.

Making parts of the day screen-free gives your eyes a break while reducing the headaches, bad posture, musculoskeletal pain and obesity which are physical manifestations of too much screen time.

Set daily limits and grey out device screens once they’re reached; read a book instead of scrolling through Facebook; banish phones from the bedroom and buy an alarm clock instead.

Above all, get outside in the real world and – apart from taking a photo of any natural beauty spots or fine architecture – concentrate on enjoying the surroundings and fresh air.

When it comes to the internet, the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’ has never been so apt.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!