The Negative Effects of Screen Time on College Students

Published: Feb 22, 2023

 Education       Grad School       
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These days if you attend any kind of event or go out to a restaurant for dinner, you’ll notice that many people are glued to their phones. They could be checking their email, writing or responding to text messages, reading the latest news, or calculating a tip. Yes friends, our smart phones can do just about anything, and while they’re convenient, the amount of time we spend scrolling through the screen could be hazardous to our health and well-being. For college students, getting into good habits while eliminating any bad ones is essential for a successful future.

Believe it or not, excessive screen time works exactly like any other addiction. Of course, when we think of addiction the usual suspects come to mind—alcohol, illegal drugs, gambling, perhaps even plastic surgery; however, it’s important to remember that all addictions form as a result of a repeated dopamine response. This response acts as a sort of “reward” system in the brain, which in turn creates an ever-increasing need to actively seek that rush of dopamine. An addiction to anything is not healthy, and can lead to all kinds of emotional problems. In the worst scenarios, addiction can lead to death.

So, why are we treating the use of smart phones and other similar devices so seriously? Your smart phone is constantly feeding you notifications. From text messages and emails, to Instagram comments and news alerts—your smart phone is an endless source of that warm, fuzzy feeling that is often associated with a dopamine response. Thus, the potential for addiction is incredibly high. This can be especially problematic if you’re a student and have to focus your effort and attention on many things all at once.

Let’s talk about some of the negative effects that can come as a result of excessive screen time. For starters, constantly focusing your eyes on a computer screen or device can negatively impact your body’s natural circadian rhythm. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep and rest, you won’t be able to focus or retain information as well, which can affect your grades. If you’ve got a part-time job, a lack of sleep or any meaningful rest will affect your work performance. It’s also worth noting that when we’re sleep deprived we can become irritable, which can have a negative impact on our relationships.

For many people, a good portion of their interpersonal interactions are conducted online, whether it’s through gaming or social media use. When we don’t get out and explore the world around us, we forfeit the opportunity to forge lasting, meaningful relationships and create real memories. When we’re always checking our phone and scrolling through various mobile apps or other people’s social media feeds, we lose sight of ourselves, and we spend less time on pursuing our own goals and the things that are really important to us.

Excessive screen time can also have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Most obviously, constantly staring at a screen can cause headaches and strain your eyes, and can lead to pain and permanent damage over time. It might sound silly, but scrolling through a screen over and over again can actually lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI) in your fingers, thumbs, and wrists. In certain cases, it can even lead to RSI in your shoulders, neck, and spine—yikes. If you’re always viewing content that depicts wealth, lavish lifestyles, and constant success, you might start to see yourself in a negative light by comparison. These thoughts can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as feelings of low self-worth and loneliness. Social media influencers are paid actors, nothing more. Never let their alleged “success” get to you. Focus on pushing forward and seek content that is better suited to your goals and values.

Of course, smart phones are a fact of life nowadays and their use shouldn’t be a negative thing. There are ways in which you can manage your screen time so that you’re able to focus your efforts on the more important aspects of your life. First and foremost, be conscious of the time you spend on your smart phone or device. It can be tricky to identify bad habits when we’re so accustomed to engaging them, so a good idea would be to keep track of your use by making a list and jotting down each and every time you pick your phone up. Does that sound annoying? Well, that’s the point—you’ll probably get tired of constantly writing things down, and you’ll be less likely to habitually pick up your phone.

If you’re particularly disciplined, place a time limit on your smart phone use each day. Another great tactic is to limit your use to phone calls and text messages only, while entirely eliminating any recreational use such as internet browsing or reading Wikipedia articles. Instead, spend that time on pursuing your hobbies and interests, or taking up a new pastime. If you enjoy expressing yourself, try taking up painting or writing, rather than making social media posts. Developing new skills is an excellent way to build confidence, and you might be surprised at your newfound natural ability!

The bottom line here is taking control of yourself and your life. College is the perfect time to get into good habits, develop new skills, and learn how to manage your time. As the old adage goes, everything in moderation. This is true of all things, and finding the right balance is key to emotional maturity and stability. With everything said, we can enjoy all the cool technology at our disposal, but we must always take care that it doesn’t rule our lives. Stay focused, get the grades, and stay on track—when you’re free of distractions, you’re free to realize your true potential.