3 Ways to Repair the Mental Health Damage From Constant Screen Use

Jean Twenge, Ph.D., a leading expert of technology’s impact on mental health, offers a plan to stop the madness.

Photo credit: Sorbetto/Getty Images
Photo credit: Sorbetto/Getty Images

An analysis of a large representative survey reinforces what I — and others — have been saying: The mental health epidemic among Americans is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults — the generation I call iGen — is nothing short of staggering.

It’s difficult to say for sure why this is happening, but the increases began right around 2012 — exactly when smartphones became common and social media moved from being optional to mandatory. In other words, the rise began when digital life became 24/7.

If so, that might actually be good news, because how we use our phones — unlike many of the other causes of mental health issues — is something we can change and encourage our kids to change.

1. Make bedrooms a no-phone zone

No phones in the bedroom while you’re sleeping — put it as far away from your bedroom as you can. (Think you can’t do that because your phone is your alarm clock? Buy an alarm clock.)

2. No screen time 60 minutes before hitting the hay

Put down all electronic devices an hour before bedtime. Almost everything we do on devices is psychologically stimulating; plus the blue light of devices suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin we need to get good rest.

3. Follow the “Two-Hour Rule”

Try to limit screen time outside of work and schoolwork to two hours a day or less.

What should you do instead? All of the things we know fulfill us as human beings: Spend time with friends and family in person. Go for a run or a swim. Watch a sunset. Read a good book. Let your smartphone be a tool you use, not a tool that uses you.

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