Plugged In- Part 4

Screens are becoming more and more prevalent in teens’ lives. However, screens can have negative effects on the body, including posture, vision, along with psychological effects. Research in the field is new due to the recency of the technology, but studies show the effects are rapid when exposed to too much screen time. However, there are ways to help prevent these issues. Sports Editor Katie Gibbs | Features Editor Jenna Spencer | Staff Writer Carter Hazen

Teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day looking at screens, more than the number of hours they spend in school. While not a traditional drug, spending time looking at phones, televisions, and computers has become a new addiction seen in students throughout the U.S. Phone users receive instant notifications about social media accounts, emails, and more, all of which have led Americans to check their phones an average of 80 times during a day. In a Pew Research study conducted in 2018, more than half the teen participants admitted to spending too much time on screens, and agree that it is a major problem facing their generation. However, most don’t understand the actual health deficits that come from overexposure to screens.
Apple devices have recently added a new feature that tracks the amount of time spent on the device, and displays graphs to show how the time is being used to users. The company said that this, along with other features added prior to it, were designed to allow people be aware of what is happening on their phones and to see how much time they spend on their phone, as well as how that time is being used. If chosen, apple device user’s can opt to see a weekly report about the average amount of time they spend on the device for the week. This new feature has grabbed the attention of Americans, revealing just how much time is dedicated to their screens.
Junior Misa Halphen is familiar with the feature and uses it on her phone. She said that she uses her phone less than most people her age, spending an average of two hours a day on her phone, but stills find the statistics to be eye-opening.
“On Apple phones you can see screen time, and at the end of the week they give you the notification and I think ‘Wow, I spend a lot of time on my phone,’” Halphen said. “But then I think about how some people have twice that amount. There’s only 24 hours in a day so if you spend four on your phone, that’s crazy.”
One aspect of health that is being largely impacted by the use of screen time is vision. Junior Evynn Rhode says she spends an average of six hours on her phone each day and has experienced problems with her eyes, and agrees that it is a growing issue.
“I’ve had to turn the font size up on my phone because it gets harder to see, so I feel like it’s making my vision worse,” Rhode said.
MD ophthalmologist Greg Hazen agrees that screen time affects vision negatively. He said that some signs of these effects are dry eyes from a lack of blinking due to staring at the screen’s content. The blue light emitted off of it also affects sleep cycles by messing with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, in tricking us to think it isn’t time to sleep. Blurry vision is another side effect caused from looking at screens for too long.
“Since 1971 the incidence of nearsightedness has doubled, up to 42% in present time,” Hazen said. “[Scientists] think that this may be related to focusing on more near work like phones and computer screens, although it is not proven.”
Vision isn’t the only part of the body affected by screen time. Screens like cell phones and computers can have an impact on posture, too. Physical Therapist Sheila Isles-Truax has been a physical therapist for ever 30 years. She said she has noticed an increase of younger people coming in for issues involving the back and wrist.
“It is terrible, the amount of screen time people are doing and the effects on posture,” Isles-Truax said. “I have seen younger and younger people coming in for physical therapy due to postural problems, and I think a lot of it is they spend way too much time on their screens. When I first started out, people would be in their early forties, late thirties, before they started having problems in their back and in their wrists and now those problems in their back, wrist, and upper back are coming along much earlier in life.”
Halphen also thinks that the usage of screen has an impact on posture.
“If I’m on my chromebook or computer, there’s a posture you’re supposed to sit in with feet flat on the floor and back straight, but I don’t do that ever so it probably does affect my posture in a bad way,” Halphen said.
After Midland High students were issued a chromebook in 2016, teachers began to use them for posting assignments, emailing, saving paper, and sharing links with students. The large variety of uses means that students are using them frequently, which contributes to the number of hours they are looking at screens.
“School is encouraging that fact because they are giving out chromebooks and want people to do everything online,” Halphen said. “Which I [think] there’s pros and cons to that because having too much screen time is unhealthy but also not wasting paper is good too.”
The introduction of new, high-speed technology that’s used frequently has brought about changes in the mentalities of the people who use them. Dipesh Navsaria, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health performs research about the effects of screens on people and presents them to parents and other inquiring adults around the nation. While some of the long term effects of screens aren’t known, some of the short term effects are.
“There’s some data that in the short-term, we see that people experience shorter attention spans and seem to ‘need’ more stimulation,” Navsaria said. “This is probably because a lot of screen media is quick, fast-paced, and overstimulating.”
Research on the effects of screen time is new due to recency of the inventions of these devices. Navsaria said that it is a complex topic to understand and study because of the difficulty in defining what screen time is, and other variances within the topic.
“What’s important is that not all screen media is the same,” Navsaria said. “There’s a big difference between reading a long article on a screen and watching a fast-paced animated show on a screen. So lumping everything together under ‘screen time’ isn’t useful. It’s kind of like doing research on ‘paper time’, which no one talks about.”
Navsaria said that the deficits that come from being exposed to screens needs to be researched more in order to make people more informed about them, but like other debates that arise perspective is needed to handle it best.
“I think the pace of change is faster than it’s been in human history,” Navsaria said. “Keep in mind that just about every big advance in technology has been accompanied by doubt and panic about what it would ‘do to young people’.”