‘Too Much Screen Time’ Is Simply Not Something to Berate Yourself for Right Now

Photo: Getty Images/Carlina Teteris
If you've noticed your stomach drops every time you deign to look at your screen-time usage stats these days, you're in good company. After all, there's a good chance that as you're staying inside to shelter in place, your step count has plummeted (though if you put your mind to it, you can definitely reach your daily goal without ever going outside) as your scrolling time has ballooned. As much as you'd love to say you're not subjecting yourself to too much screen time, those numbers don't lie. But even if this is the case, and you're not being as productive as you possibly could or exercising your mind as creatively as possible, try to take the following piece of advice about the screen-time issue to heart: Cut yourself a break.

Easier said than done, I know, especially given that in recent years research and experts have put effort into ringing the alarm on the negative effects to which technology may expose us. Research has provided evidence that too much screen time can mess with our overall happiness and well-being, and that the blue light devices emit can contribute to excessive eye strain and difficulty in dozing off peacefully. Basically, "phone = bad, books = good," is the loud-and-clear message I've taken from the narrative. But rest assured that amid the scope of unsavory lifestyle and mental-health effects COVID-19 has brought upon us—like uncertainty anxiety and worry about simple trips to the grocery store—too much screen time is simply not worth stressing about.

"Screen time has been a hot topic since iPhones found their way into every household, but I believe that life is hard enough without beginning to diagnose a screen addiction or make ourselves feel worse about our behaviors," says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. "In my professional opinion, screen time is something to worry about when it's either getting in the way of daily functioning or the only tool someone has to relax and enjoy themselves."

"Life is hard enough without beginning to diagnose a screen addiction or make ourselves feel worse about our behaviors." —psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW

What's also important to remember about technology is that sometimes the duration of use isn't as important as the way in which we're using it. Right now, there's a good chance we're using our phones and screens differently than before. For instance, perhaps you're using screens to pull up recipes, give yourself a Pinterest-scrolling break, or connect with every single person with whom you've ever been even vaguely social. All of this is to say that a solid reason our screen time numbers may be up is because we're finding more uses for our devices that may actually be serving us well and improving daily functioning. I bought myself a phone stand so I can FaceTime with my friends and watch old clips of The Daily Show while I'm exercising with a Hula-Hoop—and I dare someone to tell me that's not a productive way to use a screen.

On the other hand, though, if you're regularly getting worked up because you're consuming an endless and distressing amount of coronavirus-related news and can't bear to do anything else, then perhaps your screen-time habits may worth regulating a bit. Otherwise, cut yourself a break and instead establish new personal guardrails for usage that you can feel great about. Perhaps this means refocusing your concern from how much total time you're spending on your phone to the specific apps you're using.

Ultimately, though, being able to use technology is a creature comfort we're gloriously still able to use, so avoid berating yourself for what feels like too much screen time, and try to let yourself do what you need in order to self-soothe. Take care of yourself, and don't sweat it if you happen to lose a few hours of your life soaking in a TikTok scroll.

But uh, maybe do be diligent about cleaning your phone considering the state of the world.

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