Just a few decades ago, screen-time addiction wasn’t a thing. But with the advancements of technology and the drastic increase in usage of devices, many children (and adults) are experiencing the real-world effects of Screen Dependency Disorder.

As of February 2022, an estimated 66% of South Africa’s population were using the internet – an increase of 1.2% from the previous year. This ranks us as the fourth “most online” country in the world. The average South African between the ages of 16 and 65 spends around 10 hours and 46 minutes in front of a screen daily. This is an overall estimation that includes time spent on social media, online shopping, watching television, reading news, listening to, or streaming music, radio, or podcasts, and playing video games.

Just like the misuse of alcohol and tobacco can lead to a dependency, excessive and unregulated use of devices can lead to screen dependency, which has become all too common among young internet users.

Signs that someone may have a screen-time addiction could include loss of outside interests, increasing irritability when away from the screen, withdrawal symptoms, failure to stop or reduce their screen-time, lying about the extent of their usage, and using screen-time activities to avoid adverse feelings and moods.  

Screen Dependency Disorder can have both physical and psychological effects, some even being long-lasting. Extended time in front of a screen, particularly a phone or computer, can result in back and neck pain since we are rarely focused on our posture when using our devices.

Another common issue derived from excessive screen-time is problems with vision. Extended eye strain from focusing on one spot for too long can lead to headaches, migraines, and myopia, or nearsightedness. In addition, long bouts of screen-time can cause your eyes to dry out, become red or watery, and start burning.

Blue light emissions from our screens can block the hormone responsible for making us feel tired, known as melatonin, which in turn causes disruption to our sleep schedules. This could result in insomnia or disturbed sleeping patterns.

Screen-time addiction can lead to vast fluctuations in weight, primarily from the sedentary lifestyle that online addiction provides, but also due to the lack of a healthy sleep schedule, which increases your appetite and junk food cravings.  

While many parents provide their children with a screen to keep them occupied or quiet, it becomes an issue when their kids start showing signs of developmental delays. Children who are exposed to too much screen-time often show difficulty when it comes to creativity, problem solving, listening, ignoring distractions, and conflict resolution. By limiting their interaction with other kids and adults, these kids suffer when it comes to learning detrimental social and developmental skills.

Depression can also be attributed to the sedentary lifestyle of being “chronically online”. A 2017 study revealed that adults who indulge in over 6 hours of screen-time daily were more likely to experience moderate to severe depression. This may be because being online gives us a false sense of connection. We feel like we are connected to others, but we don’t take any action to be connected to them in the physical world.

Screen-time and devices aren’t inherently bad. In fact, they can be incredible tools to help better our lives and businesses, however, when moderation isn’t considered it can become dangerous for our mental and physical health.