Glued to the Screen: Managing Screen Time During the Pandemic
As a Millennial born in the 80s, I can remember a time when the Internet wasn’t as big as it is now. In fact, when I was a kid, there were very few screens to be glued to besides the television. Admittedly, I watched far too much, which probably contributed to me being the nerdy guy I am now.
Technology evolved quickly while I was in middle and high school. Video games went from being confined to a home console or the arcade became mobile with toys like the Nintendo Gameboy. TV became portable. And the Internet, once a novelty only available to a few, became just as important as light and water in your home.
But I don’t think anyone could have ever predicted the times we live in now. Both technology and the internet are so accessible, society coined the term “screen time” to explain how long we spend in front of devices like phones, tablets, and computers.
Only in the last few years have the dangers of too much screen time been recognized by numerous healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, the global pandemic not only forced us to stay home, but it forced young people to spend even more time on their screens. Once only for social media, games, and staying in touch with family and friends, phones and computers became the sole means of an education, having a social life, maintaining employment, and endless online shopping.
And now, eight months after the U.S. started its journey through the pandemic, many people have become digitally exhausted. Now, we pick up our phones and tablets because it has become second nature. But for children, a life glued to their phones and digital devices is not a life they deserve. As the U.S. begins to transition to some sense of normality, parents and children need to manage their screen time effectively. Children and teens need to know there is a life that needs to be lived outside of the digital world.
Dangers from the Screen
At the bare minimum of danger, too much screen time contributes to “computer vision syndrome.” It’s a condition I know far too well as a writer, a virtual worker, and someone who enjoys video games. This is essentially what happens to people who spend hours looking at screens large and small. Some of the symptoms include eye strain, dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision.
The blue light emitted by many devices can lead to poor sleep quality over time. The blue light comes from reading or playing games on phones or tablets, as well as watching TV before bed. This blue light affects your natural sleep rhythms, meaning when you sleep and wake up. Having poor sleep can have a massive impact on your quality of life and makes you less productive during the day.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that a couch potato likely isn’t going to be the healthiest person in the world. The same can be said of those who spend hours looking at their phones and playing video games. While they might be called e-sports, I doubt few of those players are sweating away any pounds playing Fortnite.
Of course, if you’re sitting down watching a screen all day, chances are you’re not going to be getting much exercise. Obesity is a massive problem in the US for both adults and children. The problem is made worse when we become sedentary because of work or digital recreation. Before the digital age we live in now, children would play outside regularly and get all the exercise they needed. Now, children and adults stay in to play video games, watch television, or do anything else that does not require much physical activity. Obesity ultimately can lead to a lifetime of medical problems if not corrected by more exercise and better diet.
Probably one of the more concerning dangers of screen time is the way it affects social development. Imagine a kid who is horribly shy with poor social skills and consistently has been unable to make friends or develop relationships with their peers. Instead, they are constantly glued to their phone and social media. They find it easier to interact digitally than in the real world.
The same can be said for teenagers who prefer text messaging and posting comments to each other on social media versus actual in person interactions. They prefer it so much that they have poor social skills when it comes to interacting with older people and are unsure how to handle real world situations that require them to make decisions on the spot. They enjoy the security of being able to simply close their messenger, close their browser window, and walk away from a situation instead of dealing with things.
Poor social development in children is a problem made worse by the digital age. Children are picking up digital devices at younger ages as adults continuously use them as a parenting tool or distraction. This leads to them believing communication via technology is just as good as in person communication.
Not all teens grow up to be extroverts who are great at talking to people. Introverts who escape into a digital world and find it easier to interact with people online are not doing themselves any favors. Though much of the world interacts with each other online, humans are still social creatures who need companionship. A life spent viewing the world through the lens of social media instead of living life and meeting people will lead to emotional problems such as depression and anxiety.
Information and Misinformation Overload
There’s no question the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for finding a host of different information on just about everything. However, many people enter the digital world and blindly accept the majority of the information they see as truth. The internet is full of disinformation and without knowing what sources of information are credible and which aren’t, kids, teens, and adults could begin to believe wild conspiracy theories or become distrusting of legitimate sources.
This became quite evident during the 2020 election. As we had so much time to be glued to any kind of news we could absorb, many people became hypersensitive to politics, to the point of neighbors turning against each other simply because of their politics.
While it may seem strange, people have become addicted to learning anything and everything about a particular subject to an almost unhealthy level. During 2020, while the world was in the grip of a global pandemic, millions of people around the world were quarantined in their homes with nothing more than their families and the internet to help them pass the time.
Many people searched daily and sometimes hourly in hopes of new information about the virus, a vaccine, financial help from the government, and anything that would give them some sort of sign the pandemic would be over soon. The news ultimately became an unhealthy addiction that led people down the road to depression, giving them the feeling that things were hopeless and our situation would never improve. It became such a problem, mental health experts urged people to unplug from their phones and computers and take the time to relax.
A Less Digital Life
With hope finally on the horizon thanks to several COVID vaccines, it appears 2020’s “new normal” may finally be a thing of the past. However, it will still be a few months before we can all get back to the normal we all can recognize.
There is no time better than now to begin taking steps to curb our addiction to technology and social media so we’re ready for the day when we can enjoy life again with friends and family without the worry of masks, infections, and restrictions on places we can visit.
Of course, all habits, good or bad, are established by repetition. Forcing yourself to get into a different mindset and routine when it comes to how much time you spend online with your devices is critical to see changes.
Make Schedules Work - If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who transitioned to working from home, you’re probably learning it’s not an easy professional life. If you’re a workaholic, there is also the temptation to continue working long after the standard work day.
If you had a normal worked schedule before you worked from home, it’s important you set a schedule now. Set office hours for yourself, while being a little flexible if necessary, and stick to those hours. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of by your job simply because you’re home and always near a computer.
The same goes for kids learning from home. They also should have hours that mimic their hours in school.
Hit the Off Switch - Have a set time during the day to turn off your devices. Consider having a disconnected time during the day when you don’t use your devices and also have a time at night when you stop using all technology so you can sleep better.
Don’t Switch One Tech for Another - If you’re spending hours upon hours on your phone or computer, don’t substitute it with something like TV or video games as your means of unplugging. Unplugging means removing yourself from technology, not simply reducing how much time you spend on one device.
A Healthy New Hobby - The new time you’ve found by putting your technology to the side should be used for something that gets you active or helps you relax.
For example, lace up your shoes and go for a walk or a run so you can improve your health and get much needed sunshine. Other examples include reading a book (not an ebook), gardening, cooking, or volunteering. The key is to do something that removes the temptation of technology and replaces it with something that improves you mentally, physically, or both.
Quality Family Time - There’s probably no better time to sit down and spend time with your family than now. Get the family together and do things that don’t involve devices such as having a game night, sharing a meal together, cooking or baking together, camping, or taking a road trip. This also creates an opportunity to speak with you children and find out how they’re doing mentally and emotionally.
Writing to Relax - Many people use social media as an outlet for how they’re feeling. There is a sense of comfort being able to say what’s on your mind and knowing your friends or family members can respond and validate your feelings. However, instead of reaching for your phone and venting on social media, where you might say something you’ll regret, reach for a notebook instead.
Keeping a journal can be a big help if you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed or stressed out with life. As you make changes to get your stress and life under control, you can come back to your journal and see how you started and the changes you made.
Make limitations - If you simply can’t remove yourself completely for social media for family or for work, try to limit yourself to one or two platforms and limit the amount of time you spend on them daily. Choose the platform you use most often, and dedicate no more than an hour to checking everything you’ve missed, usually in the later part of the day.
- Practice Benevolence - Doing something for something else isn’t just a great way to disconnect, but it’s a great way to spread some happiness for the world around you. Do something for someone like run an errand for them, make them food, make them something, etc. Doing something for a friend or family member can be a great mood booster and may inspire you to do more.
In anything you decide to do to help you spend less time on the internet or your devices, make sure you’re staying safe and taking proper precautions based on your city or state’s requirements. If spending time outside, make sure you’re as far away from people as possible or making sure you wear a mask while on a walk or run in case you come into contact with other people.