Finding healthy balance with screen time

Read time 4 minutes
Posted on August 21st 2023
A row of students holding mobile smart phones

Let's talk screens – our trusty companions in this digital era.

From smartphones and TVs to laptops and tablets, they're everywhere. We often hear about the negative impacts to our health, but there are also benefits for learning and creativity so maybe we should consider how to strike the right balance.

Our use of screens has rapidly changed

Screen technology and how we use screens has changed dramatically in a relatively short time. I feel my age when I tell my nieces about how our phones growing up were attached to the wall and didn’t have screens at all. The very first mobile phone call in the UK was made in 1985 using the ‘Transportable Vodaphone VT1’, which weighed 5kg and you had better speak quickly as its battery lasted only 30 mins on a call. Now, roughly 95% of the UK population have a mobile phone. Whilst the technology evolved over the last few decades, our use of screens changed dramatically with COVID19.

Before the pandemic, we each spent about 3-4 hours a day on screens outside of work. But during the peak of COVID, it surged. A recent study by the University of Leeds revealed that half of UK adults look at screens for over 11hrs a day and one quarter look at screens for more the 14hrs, when we include screens used for work. This unprecedented spike in screen time has raised concerns about its effects on our physical and mental well-being. Will my eyes go square like my grandparents threatened?

A healthy approach to screen time

We know screen time can strain our eyes, cause headaches, and can mess with our sleep. It's even linked to anxiety, depression, and stress. For kids, their attention span takes a hit, making it a concern for their learning and development and studies have also linked it to childhood obesity. But if we take a healthy approach and set some limits, we can learn a lot from our screen time when the content is right.

Screens kept us connected during the pandemic and can continue to do so now. Virtual work and online classes flourished, ensuring that life carried on despite the challenging circumstances. Creativity exploded online, with virtual art classes, engaging webinars and useful tutorials, inspiring a new wave of digitally trained talent. A young friend of mine recently made pasta with a cheese sauce made from scratch. When asked how he knew how to do that, he simply said that he learned it from a video! These changes in how we use screens has also led to new job opportunities. More than one in ten (13.2%) jobs in Scotland is now in the digital technology sector with multiple routes into employment including apprenticeships.

Shared big screen experiences

As we focus on screen time, let's not overlook the unique experiences offered by the big screen. Going to the cinema for a film or documentary provides an experience that extends well beyond that found in our living rooms.

Stepping into a cinema allows us to escape the everyday and journey into extraordinary narratives. Unlike watching TV at home, with inevitable distractions, the cinema commands our attention, creating an environment suitable for full immersion. The sheer size of the screen and the enveloping audio can create an intensity that is simply unparalleled.

Cinemas, like the one at Glasgow Science Centre can offer exceptional opportunities to explore a vast spectrum of topics through documentaries that cater to diverse interests. It's not limited to just the latest blockbuster hits; it becomes a platform for learning, expanding our horizons and understanding our world.

Furthermore, the experience of watching a documentary at the cinema becomes a shared adventure that extends beyond the theatre. Going with friends and family not only enhances the experience but also initiates conversations that continue long after the credits roll. The cinema serves as a catalyst for dialogue, sparking discussions that possess a unique dynamic – one that is absent when casually watching our favourite shows on the sofa.

Smart screen balance

So, let's make a deal with our screens. Take breaks to swap screen time for ‘green time’ by heading outside and staying active. And when we do use our screens, think about the quality of the content we consume. When watching TV and scrolling on your phone at the same time, ask yourself “Am I enjoying either of these things?” Let’s embrace the digital world smartly, find that balance, and enjoy the perks while staying well.

Further Information

This blog post by Stuart Meiklejohn is adapted from an article by Glasgow Science Centre that first appeared in Glasgow Times in August 2023.


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