How Much Screen Time is Too Much? (Part 1)

Amanda Luzzader

Do you spend too much time looking at electronic games in the form of social media or video games?

Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok. Do you use them? Do you use them all? Do you use them every day? Do you post lots of content or just observe? Can you do without them, or are you hooked? Do you spend too much time looking at electronic games in the form of social media or video games?

How much is too much?Before diving into that rather loaded question, in the first part of this three-part article, let’s back up a few steps back and a look at some of the benefits of screen time, social media use, and other electronic indulgences.

According to an article published by HelpGuide, an independent nonprofit that provides free mental health education and support, there are a number of benefits to using social media, including the following:

  1. The ability to communicate and stay up-to-date with family and friends around the world.
  2. The ability to find and make new friends and join communities, and to network with people who share similar interests or ambitions.
  3. Opportunities to join and promote worthwhile causes and raise awareness about important issues.
  4. Opportunities to seek and offer emotional support from online friends and family during tough times.
  5. Tools to find and maintain vital social connections for those who live in remote areas, and for those who have limited mobility, independence, social anxiety, or belong to marginalized groups.
  6. Outlets and opportunities for creativity and self-expression.
  7. Opportunities to seek out (with care) and learn valuable information.

Note the “with care” disclaimer of the final item in HelpGuide’s list. Social media can be a valuable source of information, but it should probably never be the sole source of information for anyone, and browsing social media should never replace actual research, critical thinking, and open-mindedness.

An article from the BBC echoes the ideas set forth by HelpCare’s article, suggesting that online relationships can be meaningful and can provide support and friendship, particularly for those who consider themselves introverts or socially isolated for other reasons. However, the article suggests, online relationships to the exclusion of real-world relationships is probably a bad idea.

What about video games?Whether it’s on a PC, gaming console, or smartphone, video games are also known to have many benefits and positive impacts, most of which should come as no surprise. Video games make great educational tools, can positively impact cognition, and they improve hand-eye coordination. Many video games are now designed as fitness tools, requiring players to move and work out in order to achieve high scores.

A Mental Floss article published in 2017 lists some rather surprising benefits of video gaming, including the following:

  1. Video may produce better surgeons. The Mental Floss article claimed that a study of laparoscopic (small incision) specialists found that those who played video games for more than three hours per week made 32 percent fewer errors during practice procedures compared to their non-gaming counterparts.
  2. Video games could help some overcome dyslexia. Mental Floss referenced a study that showed individuals who suffered from dyslexia improved their reading comprehension following sessions of video games that were “heavy on action.” The reason cited was that the games have constantly changing environments that require intense focus.
  3. Video games could improve eyesight. While “Don’t sit too close to the television” used to be a common parental warning, Mental Floss’s article claimed scientists are discovering that video games (in moderation) may actually improve vision.
  4. Video games could help nurture leadership. Some video games encourage and reward skillful leadership, the argument goes, and so researchers have noted that players can display a correlating motivation in their real-world activities.
  5. Video games could pique interest in history. Because many video games center around historical events and settings, video gamers may develop an interest and even expertise in topics they might have otherwise skipped.
  6. Video games can make kids more active in the real world. Even video games that don’t require physical exertion may lead kids to be more interested in the sports they play in video games, such as basketball, football, soccer, and even skateboarding.
  7. Video games might slow down the aging process. Mental Floss’s article referenced a study in which just 10 hours of play led to increased cognitive functioning in participants 50 and older—improvement that lasted for several years.
  8. Video games might help ease pain. According to Mental Floss’s article, video games trigger the release of analgesic (pain-killing) responses in our higher cortical systems, which may explain why they make great distractions from those suffering from pain.
  9. Video games can help you make new social connections. In a world where more and more activities are socially networked, video games lead the way. Video gaming is now predominantly an online group activity, which can also lead to real-world gatherings and lasting friendships.
  10. Video games can help improve balance in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Because MS is a disorder affecting multiple nerves, MS patients often have balance problems that cannot be improved with medication or other treatments. However, Mental Floss references a study in which MS patients who played video games exhibited improved balance. One study showed that MS patients who played games requiring physical interaction while standing on a balance board displayed improvement afterward.

Some of the other benefits of moderate video gaming mentioned in the Mental Floss article were improved decision-making skills, curbing overeating and smoking impulses, reduced stress, a lower tendency in gamers to exhibit bullying behavior, and some positive impacts for people diagnosed with autism.

Too much of a good thingOf course, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” Even drinking too much water can have disastrous health effects, for example. As with anything, too much screen time can have negative effects, some of which are severe. In the second part of this three-part article, we’ll look at the downside of social media and screen time.

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