• Unlike the guidelines for children, there are currently no guidelines for how much screen time adults should average on a daily or weekly basis.
  • The average daily screen time for people ages 16 to 64 is over 6 hours.1
  • Experts recommend adults and children set healthy habits around technology, like not using phones right before bed, limiting time on social media, and not using screens at the dinner table.

It’s not just children who are impacted by too much screen time—adults feel the side effects, too.

But unlike pediatric screen time guidelines, adults are on their own to figure out the appropriate limits, Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told Health.

“The erroneous assumption is that adults can use screens responsibly on their own,” he said.

Yalda T. Uhls, PhD, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA, has a different view. She wishes adults would think more about the positive ways to use media and not beat themselves up about screen time limits.

Though we may not have clear guidelines on how much screen time is too much, we do know a bit about the benefits and harms of staying glued to a device. From there, it takes a self-reflection to discern if you need to lower the amount of time you spend on digital media.

Here’s what adults should consider when it comes to their screen time average.

Young woman on her phone in bed
GETTY IMAGES / AJA KOSKA

Average Screen Use in Adults

While adults may have more self-control than children, that doesn’t automatically indicate a low screen time.

According to a 2023 digital report, the average screen time for people ages 16 to 64 globally is 6 hours 37 minutes per day.1

During the COVID-19 pandemic, American adults averaged 28.5 hours a week of recreational screen time.2 A 2021 review confirmed that screen time went up by several hours a day during the pandemic—some people logged as many as 17.5 hours a day.3

And while adult screen time is certainly on the high end of things, there’s more of an emphasis on screen time limits for children than solidified rules for adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits for kids under five, but encourages parents to focus on media quality and setting consistent rules over setting timers.4

This kind of “digital media plan” is vital because kids are typically less able than adults to be “aware of their use of and the effects of media on their behavior,” said Christakis.

He explained that children are developing social and emotional skills that excessive screen time can impede.

Screen time impacts people differently depending on their developmental needs at different ages: personality, reasons why they use media, characteristics of media platforms used, and underlying psychological needs or issues, Zhiying (Zoey) Yue, PhD, a research fellow at the Digital Wellness Lab affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told Health.

Since children are consistently entering new developmental stages, they need more clear guidelines for screens than adults—but, adults could still benefit from some health-conscious advice around screen usage.

Adults Can Still Feel a Negative Effect of Too Much Screen Time

Just because adults don’t have a black-and-white screen use guideline to follow doesn’t mean excessive digital media can’t be harmful.

If you’re catching up on the latest trending Netflix show, you’re probably not working out or sleeping—two things that support optimal health.

Time spent sitting can raise the risk of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and obesity, all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.5 That doesn’t include neck pain, headaches, eye strain, and sleep interruptions that can come with screen time.

All of these factors don’t mean that you can’t binge-watch anymore—it just means you may need limits and/or need to prioritize physical activity and social connections to combat harms that may result from screen time.

Yue explained that not all screen time is harmful. Your screen may be what you use to do healthy things like exercise or take mindfulness classes. There are differences in the effects of regulated, intentional use compared to mindlessly scrolling.

So, people shouldn’t lump all digital media into “screen use” and then come up with a time limit, Christakis clarified.

But, too much of any kind of screen time can take a toll mentally, in addition to the already listed physical side effects, he noted.5

A 2017 study found that moderate or severe depression level in adults was linked to spending more time on the TV or computer.6

“Prolonged screen time, especially when it replaces essential activities like sleep, schoolwork, or social interactions, can be detrimental,” said Yue.

The questions adults should ask themselves are how are they spending their time? Screen time and other monitoring apps can help to find out, said Christakis.

Once you know how much you’re on a screen per day, ask yourself if that’s the amount of time in a day you’d like to be on a screen. Ask yourself how your screen use makes you feel, and what else you’d like to do with your time, he added.

Reducing Your Screen Time

In addition to understanding how you use digital media, and seeing if you want to change anything about it, it’s important to consider how your screen time may impact the children around you, Yue said.

Understanding this impact may be a factor when trying to figure out how much time on a screen is “too much.”

“Our research consistently highlights the benefits of such involvement,” Yue said, “particularly when it supports adolescents’ growing desire for independence and autonomy.”

Implementing, enforcing, and modeling media-related rules, along with engaging in open discussions about media use, are linked with fewer media-related challenges in adolescents aged 13 to 17, she said.

Here are a few ways adults can work to lower their average screen time:

  1. Use the phone to combat screen fatigue from video calls when you can3
  2. Stop phubbing—focusing on your device when you have the chance to talk face-to-face with someone3
  3. Turn off unneeded notifications, which can draw you back to the phone
  4. Set time limits for all devices, including televisions and electronic readers
  5. Establish a “curfew” for devices, such as not using them two hours before bedtime—or at least 30 minutes
  6. Don’t eat while using a device; you may be more apt to overindulge (and miss the chance to connect with those around you)
  7. Skip screens in the bedroom
  8. Take breaks from computer work every 30 minutes
  9. Limit your time on social media

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