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Put Down The...Screen? Part One

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

It is no surprise to anyone that we live in a digital world. From school to socializing to work, we absolutely require screen time as a necessary part of daily life. I’m writing this article on my laptop, which I take with me pretty much everywhere. My cell phone is about five feet away, and even though notifications are silenced, it will still vibrate if a message comes through.

When you think about it, ask yourself what you do when you first get up. Grab your phone? Probably to check the weather, but then you might just jump onto a social media app. Some people post things as soon as they get out of bed, especially the self-help positive crew. “Rise and Grind!” Jocko Willink, who is a former Navy Seal and an excellent author and speaker, posts a picture every morning of his watch at 4:30am when he gets up to exercise.

We check the news before heading to work; we look at the phone while we are stopped at lights driving, then we look at a monitor all day. The day is done, you might catch up on social media to relax – while in front of the television. In fact, studies show that it’s actually becoming more unusual that you AREN’T in front of a screen than you are.

This is a necessary part of society, and I’m not about to demonize that. It’s brought great convenience to our everyday lives. The tricky part is when it becomes something that we HAVE to do rather than what we CHOOSE to do.

A phenomenon called nomophobia is literally no-more-phone-phobia. Ask yourself if you suddenly realize your phone is somewhere else or missing, or if you’ve left it at home, do you feel a sense of dread or panic? Due to smartphones running most of our lives, this is a common occurrence. It’s not unusual for people to have a smart watch and remove that entire issue – now your phone is strapped to your wrist. And every little buzz is an indicator of something happening.

What this little buzz does, or a notification does, is it activates the brain into doing something. This can be an email, a social media post or activity, or even your step counter showing you what you did yesterday. Brain chemicals called dopamine hit your system, and it gives you a slight bit of comfort. Remember, your body and brain are designed for this comfort level. And dopamine feels really good.

But wait, isn’t dopamine something drug addicts have problems with?


How dopaminergic (how dopamine activating) a substance or behavior is correlates with the addictive potential of that substance or behavior.

So, for example, food increases dopamine. We enjoy it; it makes us feel good. Same with sex, and it’s even the same with rewards in things like video games. But here’s the catch – the dopaminergic effect from video games is proven to be on the same level as having sex. Now, imagine your ten-year-old playing Fortnite or you spending an hour playing Candy Crush and then realize that the time spent doing that is altering your brain in the same way from a reward perspective.

What are some symptoms of screen addiction? Similar to many other process addictions (other examples include gambling and porn – something that has an outcome), there are some fairly clear signs that you might have an issue that needs to be addressed. These can include:

  • · Does it affect your daily life in a negative way? Ie. Failing at school, neglecting work, withdrawing from social or family obligations.

  • · Aggression or Mood dysregulation when screens are taken away – this is especially prevalent in children and teens. Anger and lashing out is a clear sign.

  • · Lack of proper health habits like poor sleep or bad hygiene.

  • · A loss of feeling good during things that you used to enjoy.

Remember what I said about sex earlier and how video games have the same dopaminergic effect? Imagine if you’re playing video games for two hours and then suddenly your partner is in the mood. You just had sex for two hours, are you going to want to have it with a real person? This is a slippery slope towards relationship issues or things like children being neglected.

I could easily write an entire article on the negative effects of screen time on children as well. Studies reveal that young people who spend more time on screens and engaging in things like texting and social media have poorer educational outcomes and are much more likely to experience mental illness. And not just depression.

So why am I writing this? Well, the biggest piece of any change into a more positive light is awareness. My suggestion is to sit down – without your phone – and take stock of how you spend your day and be honest with yourself. If you had to put down your phone for a day and leave it at home while you went to work, would you be upset? If your television didn’t work at night, would there be a problem engaging with your partner or doing something mundane like playing a board game? Would your kids lash out violently if you took their IPad away?

While this all seems normal, I’m bringing it to your attention because it is altering your brain daily, even in adulthood. And this can become something that is a problem with the symptoms I’ve stated above over time, much like an occasional drinker that turns into an alcoholic.

By cutting down on screen time, we can spend more time face to face with people having conversations. You can connect more with your loved ones. We are usually more productive at work, and what’s even better is we will be happier overall.

Part Two of this article will give you specific strategies to cut back on-screen time and develop better habits. Like a food addiction, screen time isn’t something we can avoid in today’s world. However, it is definitely something that we can manage positively, both for ourselves and our loved ones.

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