We’ve all been there. When the new season of our favorite Netflix show comes out, or our favorite YouTuber releases a bunch of new videos, there’s one thing we want to do: binge. But is binge-watching really the devil it’s been made to be? Let’s dive in and learn more about the effects of bingeing.
At a time when 74% of U.S. households use at least one streaming service, TV has become an integral part of our lives. According to a report from Common Sense, “On average, 8- to 12-year-olds in this country use just under five hours’ worth of entertainment screen media per day (4:44), and teens use an average of just under seven and a half hours’ worth (7:22)—not including time spent using screens for school or homework.”
While most of us think of Netflix or Hulu when we think of binge-watching, teens are actually choosing YouTube Videos over traditional streaming platforms (though the margins are slim, with YouTube coming in at 37% teen viewers and Netflix at 35%). Since 2015 the number of kids and teens watching videos online (mainly on YouTube) every day has nearly doubled to an hour each day.
Whatever the video or platform, we’re consuming a lot of media on a daily basis.
What is binge-watching?
“Binge-watch” (added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2017) means to watch “many or all episodes of (a TV series) in rapid succession.”
What are the negative effects of binge-watching?
While not detrimental, binge-watching is probably not the best for our mental and physical well-being. According to Dr. Randall Wright, a neurologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, “When we binge-watch, we create an unhealthy environment for the brain because we’re sitting for long periods of time, isolating ourselves from social activities and eating large amounts of unhealthy food.” Additionally, a new study at the University of Michigan and the University of Leuven in Belgium found that bingeing can also lead to poor quality of sleep, fatigue, and insomnia.
Even Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, commenting in a 2017 earnings report that his company’s number one competitor is sleep. “Think about it: When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night,” Hastings said. “We’re competing with sleep.”
The worry now is that bingeing interferes with important priorities, time for rest and unstructured fun, strong relationships with others, and space for important life lessons. There is also a feeling of powerlessness to limit our kids’ viewing time as technology allows such easy, inexpensive access to content with and without our knowledge.
Why do teens binge watch?
When even the FAQs on the Netflix site give permission to, “Go ahead, binge a little!” it’s hard to resist the urge to watch all. the. shows. Ask a teen why they binge-watch Netflix, and they might say:
- Sheer volume. When Netflix releases a new show, all episodes become available at once. This lets viewers watch every episode as quickly as they desire.
- Auto-play. No commercials, unlimited content, cheap subscriptions, the ability to download, and universal access—every TV lover’s dream!
- It’s an escape. Bingeing can be a getaway from the pressures of the day-to-day.
- There are personal connections. Take YouTubers, for example. A big factor in YouTubers becoming so popular so fast is their ability to make their viewers feel seen, valued, and as if they’re close friends sharing their daily lives. Their videos are often personal and break down their day-to-day experiences, passions, and hobbies, and our teens are openly invited into that space. For those who struggle to make friends IRL especially, having those connections with YouTubers—who seem to truly understand what they’re going through—can feel like genuine and needed relationships.
- It’s entertaining. Ok, so this one might be a little more obvious. But we should address the fact that shows and videos were made to be compelling and entertaining, and if your child is bingeing, then the creators have simply done their job in making the content just that good. They want us to be addicted because they want more views, better ratings, more subscribers, and more likes—and so, those creators cater to what they know will get us sucked in every time in order to meet those goals.
How to help teens break the habit of binge-watching
It’s important to help guide your teenager in turning TV time into an occasional treat rather than a daily habit. Here are some strategies you might suggest:
- Socialize while watching: Encourage your teen to watch TV with friends or family members to reduce excessive viewing and discourage prolonged binge-watching.
- Choose healthier snacks: Guide your teenager to opt for nutritious snacks like fruits and vegetables instead of unhealthy options while watching TV, promoting better overall health and wellness.
- Set healthy boundaries: Encourage your teen to limit themselves to a specific number of episodes per viewing session, like two episodes at a time. Once they’ve reached this limit, encourage them to switch off the TV and explore other activities.
- Time management: Work with your teenager to establish reasonable time limits for nightly TV watching. Consider using alarms or timers to help them stick to these boundaries.
- Encourage variety: Help your teen diversify their routine by incorporating activities beyond TV watching, such as exercise, reading, hobbies, or spending time with friends.
- Prioritize sleep: Emphasize the importance of a consistent bedtime to prevent sleep deprivation caused by binge-watching. Consider using a bedtime alarm to help them manage their viewing time effectively.
We live in a world driven by consumerism and technology. Put the two together, and it’s a pretty strong power duo. If your teen does seem to be bingeing more than you’d like, take a moment to pause and consider why they could be watching so excessively, and instead of reacting, have a conversation about it. Ask them: What do you like about this show/video? Can I watch it with you? Do you think it’s healthy for us to binge-watch? Are there things that keep getting put off because of watching a show? If so, how can you find a better balance?