Screening Screen Time for Mental Health

Written by: Amelia Lomat, Marketing and Communications at ConnexOntario

Screens- everywhere and anywhere you want, or don’t, want them. Children, youth and adults alike have adopted cellphones, tablets, video games and laptops as extensions of their bodies and identity. You can manage everything from your work responsibilities and finances to grocery shopping and school work. It allows us to stay connected to those we care about, be part of a larger community and remain entertained with almost endless feeds of content without leaving the comfort of our home.

During the first lockdown, recreational use of screen time with children had increased 3x (2.6 hours a day to 5.9 hours). Reports from the last several years show high school students spend more than 7.5 hours a day on screens, with 20% of students spending 5+ hours just on social media. It can’t be surprising that our screen time is higher than ever, but what does that mean, and how does it affect the ones we love and us?


Increases in Sedentary Lifestyles

Time seems to fly by when sucked into your device, and before you know it, two or three hours have gone by. Netflix is asking if you’re still watching and you are in the same spot. Pair that with 8 hours a day in front of a screen and multiple lockdowns, it’s clear that movement is something that has taken the back burner for many Canadians over the past two years. Sedentary lifestyles (little or no physical activity) have clear correlations to lowered mental and physical health with higher levels of depression and anxiety, in addition to unhealthy diets and weight gain.


Device Dependence

“I can’t live without my cellphone” might be a bit of an exaggeration for some and less for others. Nomophobia is a medically recognized fear of being without a mobile device or beyond mobile contact. It ranges from anxiety when you leave your phone at home to an irrational fear stemming from the desire always to be connected. As a child’s brain develops, reliance on technology can develop in ways like self-soothing or entertainment. Over half of young-adults report being “addicted” to their cellphones, and the average smartphone user touches their phone over 2,600 times a day! Addiction to our devices can be linked to low self-esteem, impulsiveness and gratification-seeking behaviours.


Social Connections

Social media has created incredible opportunities for connection and visibility within our communities and worldwide. Though not a replacement for face-to-face contact, studies have shown that social media use in youth has become necessary in developing connections with their peers. However, the highlight reel of one’s life can have negative impacts. Social media can enforce unrealistic expectations and comparisons for children and teens and impact their self-esteem through photo altering, filters and ads in the form of endorsements from those they follow. By design, the instant satisfaction created by curated feeds keeps you scrolling, resulting in increases in depressive signs and symptoms.  


Doom Scrolling

News today is, more often than not, bad news. Rising case numbers, social injustice, accidents, natural disasters; it can be hard not to get consumed by it all. We fixate on particular topics, comments, and updates through different media outlets. While negative news is not necessarily physically harmful, it triggers the same feelings of concern and awareness to a potential threat. “We are all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to the negative because it can harm us physically,” Ken Yeager, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, states. The feelings of understanding the threat typically create a sense of control and “safety,” however, with news, it can be particularly harmful to your mental wellness through increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and feelings of isolation. Of course, it’s essential to stay informed. It’s also important to seek balance.


Recognizing a Problem

  • The use of devices interferes with your daily life (sleep, conversations, school or work)
  • You feel worried or irritable when without your device, even for short periods
  • You have trouble limiting the amount you use it, losing track of time that you spend online
  • You find yourself feeling worse after using it
  • You find yourself defending the amount of time
  • You are prioritizing time with your device over time for movement and connections in reality


Balancing the Good and the Bad

The reality is that screen time plays a vital role in our world and how we live within it. The challenging part is finding an ideal balance in our everyday use. While we can’t get away from our responsibilities like work and school, we can choose how we integrate technology in our free time. Some healthy habits you and your family can incorporate include:

  • Develop expectations for screen time together through open dialogue
  • Limiting screen time for young children. Ex. Children ages 2-5 no more than 1 hr/day
  • Leave devices out of the bedroom at night
  • Try not to touch your phone for the first hour of your day
  • Make sure what you’re consuming makes you feel good, and avoid what doesn’t


Breaking a habit is not easy, especially one that is right at our fingertips. It’s important to reward yourself and your loved ones with positive strides and empathy when things aren’t going the way you planned. Recognizing a problem and making a conscious effort to change is something to be proud of. If you or someone you care about is concerned about their mental health, help is available. ConnexOntario is available 24/7 to connect those who reach out to mental health and addiction service information. No question is too small. Call 1-866-531-2600, text CONNEX to 247247 (Std msg & data rates may apply) or visit their website to chat or email.