How much of your day is spent looking at a screen? Remember that “screen” includes smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions, movies, jumbotrons, video games, digital billboards, and e-books. One online source estimated there may be a total of 8 billion screens in the world.1 Now let me ask you a more indelicate question: If you are a parent, how much of your child’s day is spent looking at a screen?
In a recent article entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge states that research indicates that young people who spend lots of time looking at screens tend to feel isolated and lonely, get less sleep, and lack ambition.2
This article was adapted from Dr. Twenge’s new book, which is provocatively entitled iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. In this work, she says the average teenager spends 6 to 8 hours a day looking at screens. Most of this screen time is spent engaged in social media and texting on smartphones. Dr. Twenge also says teenagers that spend more time looking at screens are less happy, more depressed, and at a higher risk for suicide, and they also read very little.3
Some people reading these ominous studies that reveal so many negatives associated with screen watching will inevitably say that correlation is not causation. In other words, there may be significant reasons why a generation of youths tends to struggle other than too much screen time. This seems quite reasonable since children have always been deeply affected by spiritual, familial, and cultural factors. Yet even if only part of the negatives associated with screen technologies is valid, it surely gives us a reason to reflect.
Of course, it isn’t just youths who spend inordinate amounts of time looking at screens. Virtually everyone has been affected by the new screen culture. All of us know middle-aged people who handle their smartphones so much that the phones seem to be part of their hands. One study revealed that some people touch their cell phones 100 to 150 times a day.
As a scholar and author, I spend a lot of time looking at screens (mostly computer, but also television). After all, I wrote this online article while looking at a screen, and you are likely reading it on a screen. But I also schedule my week to have days where I don’t look at any screens at all. On such days, I look forward to spending time with my family and also alone with my thoughts and in prayer.4 I also encourage my adult children to spend whole days away from screens.
More and more studies indicate that if you put down your cell phone, close your computer, turn off your television, and pick up a physical book and read it, you’ll be a more informed and fulfilled person. Add the prayerful reading of Scripture and a walk in nature, and you’ll likely be well on your way to experiencing a profound sense of peace and rest in life.