Mental & Emotional Effects

Written by Jo Langford, M.A.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that you spend no more than an hour or two per day engaged in entertainment media. That works out to ten to fifteen hours a week. If you are using screens for entertainment more hours a week than you are doing your homework or hanging out with friends, it can lead to a host of problems: physical, mental, and emotional. Increasingly, research studies are revealing that the negative cost to our young people’s mental health of using digital and social media is significant. Since the introduction of smartphones in 2007, significant increases in the number of 8th to 12th graders exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms have been observed, and according to the CDC, the suicide rate for teen girls increased by 65% from 2010 to 2015. Other significant risks include body dysmorphia and the loss of self-esteem as young people compare themselves negatively with the (often altered) images of individuals that appear to be prettier/more handsome, thinner/more muscular, more popular, and having more fun. Coupled with this, increased rates of other mental health issues including anxiety, isolation, substance abuse, and the negative fall-out of cyberbullying have been observed. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to protect yourself against the negative mental & emotional effects of being on screens.

Social Media
  • Comparing yourself to other people’s cool blogs/profiles, friends and followers, posts, pictures, bodies, lives, and likes, can leave you feeling increasingly bad about yourself. It’s important to keep in mind that most people tend to post about the exciting, fun, funny, and positive things that are happening: not the boring or unpleasant parts of their lives. Everyone goes through ups and downs in life, and it’s crucial to remember we are not alone.
  • Getting caught up with the need to hide your human imperfections and maintain an idealized version of yourself will create pressure and frustration that can lead to self-esteem issues.
  • Unfortunately, social media is often used by bullies. Insults and personal attacks can be sent and shared repeatedly, causing real harm to the victims. This happens to everyone, but the more time you spend on social media, the more you will have to deal with this. One hack to lower the impact of trollish behavior is to never read the comments — this is where most abuse is likely to happen.
Screen Time
  • The internet is a place as much as it is a thing, and predators always go where children, preteens, and teens are. The anonymity and interactive features of games make them a favorite destination of more than a half-million online predators every day. They use screens to get to kids, because when you are distracted and focusing on something else, you can be easier to manipulate.
  • Most people interact with screens daily. Many interact hourly, and almost always, this is a solo behavior. Even when hanging out with others, we can be focused on our screens. The more time you trade real-time engagement with other people for the distanced connection of a screen, the more likely you are to feel lonely, despite the number of friends and followers you have online.
  • For many people, screens can help reduce feelings of both anxiety and depression. For some the overuse of screens can have the opposite effect: with constant demand and distraction actually making their anxiety and depression worse.
  • The fear of missing out or FOMO is that kinda creepy feeling we sometimes get when we are not plugged into our devices and we sense or worry that “something cool or important is happening somewhere and I am missing it!” If you find that you are having a hard time unplugging without having a FOMO reaction, it is a sign that you may need to be unplugging more, not less.
  • Many people play video games “to relax,” though many games actually increase your stress levels; fighting for your life, saving the world, or winning a game can leave you sweaty, shaky, heart racing, irritated, and way more stressed out than you were when you picked up the controller. This can make it harder to engage in learning (e.g., school work) and social activities (like family meals).
  • Likewise, video games can bring up anger and frustration that can carry over to your real-world life. It’s helpful to create distance and time between playing high stakes/energy games and real-world tasks: like not playing agro or anger-inducing games before school, dates, or family dinners, and not playing racing games before you need to drive your actual car somewhere, etc.
  • The gamerverse can be particularly toxic for female-identified people — if you are one, keep your antennae tuned and block and report accordingly. If you are not female-identified, shut it down when you see it, and work to not make it worse.