From adults to teens and right on down to the little ones, we sure do love our screen time. The question is, does it love us back? Researchers have been studying various aspects of this question for a while, and the answer doesn’t look so good. Many of us are now spending hours and hours texting, emailing, and scrolling through our social media feeds every day. We tell ourselves that it helps to keep us connected to others, which should lead to happier, more fulfilling lives. That’s just common sense, right?
It turns out: Not so much. A new study out of San Diego State University is showing exactly the opposite. Led by professor Jean M. Twenge, researchers utilized data from more than a million teens, providing a huge sample for the study. The results revealed that those who spent a significant amount of time on their smartphones were unhappier than young people who were busy with other types of behaviors. For example, those who spent more time engaged in face-to-face interaction, and activities such as playing sports or spending time outdoors, were found to be much happier than their peers.
So much happier.
Twenge has conducted a number of studies on the topic, and one of the most distressing findings is that teens who spend four, five, or more hours on their phones daily are SEVENTY-ONE PERCENT more likely to commit suicide. That is a sobering statistic, and one that might make you want to snatch the phone out of your child’s hand right now.
It’s not just teens that need to rethink their smartphone usage, either. While we want to believe the devices help us connect with others, it appears that exactly the opposite can happen. The constant presence of smartphones in our daily lives has been shown to hinder real-life interactions, as there is a constant source of interruption breaking down your connection. In fact, they are so distracting that they don’t even have to be turned on to pull our attention away from whatever is in front of us! Basically, our bodies are on alert for any type of communication that might be about to come through.
The physical aspects of phone use are troubling as well. When we engage with someone face-to-face, we tend to look forward, with our shoulders squared toward the person and our heads up. Conversely, when using a phone, we strain our necks, back, shoulders, and even our eyes! It’s worth noting that when we’re on the phone, we’re also not moving our bodies in healthy ways. Sure, you might wander across the street while commenting on a funny video, but that’s certainly not the same as working out…or even taking a brisk walk. (It can also get you run over or cause another type of accident.)
Of course, smartphone technology does a lot of wonderful things for us. It’s amazing to have the whole internet at your fingertips (or thumb tips, as the case may be), and anyone over 40 is thrilled to no longer have to memorize everyone’s phone numbers. Moderation is the key here. Phones are a great tool, but they should be considered just that…a tool that augments our real-life experiences such as meeting new people and taking part in activities that stimulate our bodies and minds.