The time we spend looking at screens has increased drastically in a relatively short amount of time. Twenty years ago, our screen time was made up of watching TV and playing video games. Smartphones didn't exist, and only a fraction of us would have been working with computers all day back then. Nowadays, we have the above plus phones and it feels as though we all work with computers.
According to Frontiers for Young Minds, children today spend an average of seven hours per day interacting with media. That's a pretty scary statistic when you see it written down. Considering the average workday is eight hours long, and most people work five days a week, that means today's kids are spending more time looking at screens than adults do working full-time jobs.
Whether a child or an adult, a lot of people's time in front of a screen is spent playing video games. As someone in their late 20s, I can vouch for that being the case for myself and many other people my age since the early '90s. Yes, it is a lot easier now with portable and mobile games, but my friends and I used to spend many nights playing the Sega Genesis longer than we probably should have, only to be eventually foiled by our parents.
So, on to what we are here for, how much is too much? Well, that's where there is a lot of confusion. You would probably assume that since video games have come under so much scrutiny, pretty much since they were invented, someone would have put some pretty strict parameters in place. Instead, there are a few different schools of thought, and none of them seem to agree.
Psychology professor Jean Twenge declared in 2017 that one to two hours per day was more than enough gaming for teens. If someone had hit us with that during a weekend of solid gaming when we were 14, we would have laughed you out of our bedrooms. Who are we kidding? If someone said that to us now, we'd do a lot of laughing too. Thankfully, not everyone agrees with Twenge.
The American Academy of Pediatrics thinks that one to two hours per day is the right amount, but only for children aged between two and five, not teenagers. The Academy believes that there should be no numerical value placed on how many hours per day older children should be gaming. That's the kind of thinking we can get behind. However, many studies seem to state that five is the magic number and that the worrying should really begin when people are playing video games for 50 or more hours per week.
Considering what your kids could be doing outside the house, what could possibly be the harm in them staying home and gaming? It's keeping them out of trouble, right? Well, yes and no. Sitting in the same position for hour after hour isn't good for you. We often hear warnings about sitting in an office chair in front of a computer for too long is bad, and playing video games for extended periods of time comes with all the same risks.
Healthy Place has listed a number of problems that can be caused by gaming for too long, and it makes for scary reading. Social isolation, depression, and obesity are just a few of the consequences that made the cut. There have even been reports of the opposite of obesity happening to people who become obsessed with gaming, as they sit there for so long eating nothing but junk food and snacks.
Before you start packing up all your consoles and giving them to goodwill, keep in mind that playing video games for extended periods of time isn't all bad. Some studies have actually discovered a wealth of ways why it is good for your health. Despite most people believing that staring at screens damages your eyesight, it turns out that action-packed games like first-person shooters actually improve some people's eyesight. You need to be focused and looking at the finer details on the screen, so it makes sense.
As with anything that someone can be "addicted" to, people who think they might be gaming too much are looking for someone to tell them whether they are addicted or not. The trouble is that there is no definitive line. Potential game addiction can't be defined by a specific number of hours spent gaming. Instead, it is dictated by how your gaming affects other aspects of your life. If you play video games for five hours a day but can put the controller down without issue whenever you feel like it, you're probably fine. If you are passing up on having a social life, sacrificing sleep, or not eating right due to your gaming habits, that might be when you have crossed the line into addiction.