Screentime May Be Damaging Attention Spans

Most of us spend more time staring at a screen than we’d care to admit. It’s easy to do; devices have become a big part of our daily lives. Too much of a good thing is never good, however, and our phones and tablets are no exceptions. All that screen time could be taking its toll on our attention spans.

Screentime has a Detrimental Effect on Children

No matter their age, children need strict limits on screen time. Studies on the effects devices can have on different age groups tell similar stories:

  • Babies might not develop normally if they get too much screen time. A study on 18-month-old children showed that the age group was more likely to have developmental delays in their communication skills. One of their most notable issues was in their expressive speech. And this is all that’s measurable, given their age; it’s frightening to consider the other deficits we cannot see.
  • Young kids offer a better glimpse into that window. Research focusing on preschool children showed even 1 hour of screen time for 3-year-olds and 2 hours a day for 5-year-olds worsened attention spans for both ages. Children with ADHD had significantly pronounced symptoms, but the children were 7.7 times more likely overall to exhibit ADHD-like behavior if they had more than 2 hours of screen time each day.
  • Adolescents and teens are also at risk because heavy screen use increases the risks of attention problems that can span into adulthood. According to an NPR report, increased screen time could be one reason we’ve seen a spike in ADHD diagnoses among all age groups.

As their caregivers, we should work to provide activities that are interactive, immersive and hands-on. Teach children to focus on what’s in front of them — whether that might be an art project, science experiment or learning game — and help them learn the value of delayed gratification. Which is another challenge that screentime may be causing.

Patience and self-control are learned skills that require practice, direction and plenty of real-life interaction to develop.

Screentime has Detrimental Effects on Adults

The average adult spends up to 3 1/2 hours on their device each day and many spend far more than that. The numerous games, apps and media bits we have available 24/7 can leave us open to Internet addiction and information overload. According to a study on university students, higher amounts of screen time correlate to higher self-reports of ADHD and similar attention problems in adults.

The Washington Post recently reported on the growing concerns among many adults over the effects of screen time on their attention spans. It seems we’ve become distracted, on the whole, and open access to the Internet could be to blame. It’s also likely caused us to adjust how we approach much of what hits our screens.

With so much information constantly coming our way, we may be more likely to skim through most of the content we encounter. This can become a habit, leading to minimal focus even when we should be alert, such as at work. That’s where many of us wind up getting into trouble.

Limiting Screen Time May Help with Attention Problems

Apps, games and the Internet might emit an endless siren’s call, but it's possible to reduce the chances of falling victim to its trap by being mindful of the time spent on devices. Use a timer to start limiting screen availability. Turn it off when the timer goes off and go about life in other ways. Need more help? Use an app like ZenScreen, available on both Android and Apple devices, which will lock all nonessential access after a chosen length of time.

Consider keeping primary devices in another room to make it inconvenient to check on social media or update a game. Remove or silence instant messaging apps to cut the temptation to respond to chats. Encourage friends and family to participate in more offline activities, such as gardening, playing board games, starting a new project together or just engaging in some old-fashioned conversation. Over time, it may be possible to regain some of that lost focus.

Social media, video games and online content can be wonderful tools, but in excess, devices can have adverse effects on us, regardless of our age. We must each take ownership of our usage, adopting whatever measures may be necessary to keep ourselves reined in.

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2/6/2024 5:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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