How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

Scripps offers healthy screen time recommendations for children and adults

A young man looking at his cell phone demonstrates the need for screen time limits, as studies show people spend hours a day staring at electronic devices.

Scripps offers healthy screen time recommendations for children and adults

On average, adults spend about 11 hours a day staring at some kind of screen, whether that be a computer, phone, tablet, TV or another type of electronic device. For office workers, some of that is unavoidable, but that extra recreational screen time isn’t doing you any favors. 

“While this problem is more pervasive in office-based jobs, it does involve those who don’t work on computers as well, since many go home and spend hours on their phones and TVs after work,” says Vivian Tran, MD, internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Mission Valley.

Negative effects of too much screen time

Excessive screen time can lead to numerous health concerns, including:

  • Eye strain and headaches
  • Insomnia and poor sleep
  • Social media addiction, because Dr. Tran says social media tools can be psychologically detrimental — with more people seeking external validation that leads to more depression and self-confidence issues
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Tendonitis, carpal tunnel and other repetitive-use injuries
  • Sedentary lifestyle, which has been linked to heart disease, obesity and other problems

Screen time recommendations for adults

While there’s no current consensus on how much screen time is too much for adults, Dr. Tran says there are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of time you spend on an electronic device, or at least to mitigate some of the effects:

  • While working on a computer, look away and at a distant object for about 20 seconds every 20 minutes — set a reminder if necessary
  • Take a quick standing stretch break every hour
  • Learn a few “chair yoga” stretches to keep muscles loose
  • Pay attention to your posture
  • Don’t eat in front of a screen
  • Avoid backlit screens for an hour before bed
  • Note how long you spend on electronic devices and replace some of that with physical activity and social interaction

Limiting screen time for kids

While there’s no set limit on screen time for adults, for kids it’s a whole other story. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers screen time recommendations by age:

  • No screen time for babies up to 18 months, other than video chatting 
  • From 18 to 24 months, use only high-quality media sources and supervise your child’s usage 
  • Kids age 2–5 should spend no more than an hour a day on a device
  • For older kids, you can decide what’s okay

Get involved in your kids’ online world, but keep some areas of your home, like the dinner table, off-limits to electronic devices. Also, model healthy device usage yourself — kids learn by example — and encourage offline social interaction and physical activity.

The cover of the March issue of San Diego Health magazine shows jockey and Scripps patient, Victor Espinoza.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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