When I think about my personal screen time there is a variety of device usage and time periods that I can describe to fill out a typical weekday. Some of it may be considered frivolous, but some absolutely necessary.

I use my smartphone for several minutes each morning after I wake up and as I’m getting ready for work. I check Words With Friends, Facebook, the Weather Channel app, and maybe respond to a text or two.  On the way to work, I may get in a little shopping at Walmart or stop for gas at Sam’s and use their apps to make purchases. So I log close to 30-45 minutes on my phone in the early morning. 

After arriving at work I log on to my computer and spend the majority of the day in front of two monitors typing on a keyboard and clicking a mouse. I use my phone to text and respond to texts during breaks and my lunch hour. So roughly eight hours there. 

After work, there may be a few other errands involving looking at my phone. I get home and there is likely more phone followed by watching tv (and phone at the same time typically), getting on to my home computer to surf online, and going to bed with my phone close by to again check apps and play a few other games that I’ve grown addicted to lately like Wordle and Globle. So probably another 3-4 hours…

Ok, so my total on a typical day is somewhere between 11-13 hours a day. But is it excessive?

Most of the statistics I’ve seen for average screen time spent for adults in the USA lands around the 7 hours a day mark. However, it’s hard to tell whether this number is factoring out work. Some statistics seem to factor in work because I’ve also seen numbers ranging from 11 (before the pandemic) to an astonishing 19 hours (during the pandemic). Whatever the numbers, 11-13 is still alarmingly high when I consider that my waking hours total 16 (providing I get 8 hours of sleep) and that means 70-80 percent of my waking hours are spent staring at a screen. Wait, can that be right?!

There are many advantages to devices and screens. They allow you to communicate over long distances with friends and family. The teaching and learning applications are limitless – as are the entertainment possibilities. They allow you to track health issues including physical activity and sleep. Our devices allow for convenient ways to shop and pay for things. I could go on and on but everyone knows the benefits of screen time and how it makes our lives easier.

The disadvantages are notable and there is a lot of research that shows that excessive screen time can be detrimental to children as well as adults. In children, it can negatively affect the development of language, social and emotional skills. For all of us, it can adversely affect sleep, lead to eye strain, headaches, and muscle ache from neck, back and shoulder strain. It can contribute to obesity and depression from leading a more sedentary lifestyle. It can be addictive and lead to other addictive behaviors. It can limit the time we spend interacting face-to-face with our families, engaging in physical activity, and focusing on our health.

When excessive screen time becomes a problem there are ways to decrease it. For children, it’s important for parents to set limits and guidelines for screen time. Young children should stick to high-quality content and parents should monitor online activity and set up device-free zones and times at home. Adults can turn off notifications, set a curfew (e.g. two hours before bedtime, turn off devices), stick to no devices during mealtimes, leave devices out of bedrooms, track and monitor screen time with apps, and schedule reminders to take breaks from time spent in front of computers at work.

Once you’ve reduced your screen time you’re free to engage in a host of alternative activities (remember these?) Take a walk, play basketball, swim, garden, paint, read a book, play board games, get crafty, etc. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The library is a great place to find alternatives to screen time. Programs, programs, programs.

Go to https://calendar.salinapubliclibrary.org/ to find a wide variety of fun and interesting things to do. Books, media, games, things – we have a huge collection! Go to https://discover.salinapubliclibrary.org/ to find them. 

 (ok, we do have screens and devices here – so please come into the library and use them – oh, and we have an app – search for Salina Public Library Catalog)

Hopefully, we can all find a balance. Devices are great tools and the time we spend using them has the potential to make our lives easier and richer (and will continue to in the future in ways we can’t even begin to imagine) – but they must be used mindfully and not distract us from what matters most – our health, families, and well-being.