“Screen Time” can be educational , entertaining, or even both (what some call “edutaining”). On the downside, it can also compromise our wellbeing, if we lose balance between time spent in the digital world and the physical, and lose control of the digital screen content we choose to spend our time on. Let’s learn how screen time is defined and how to best manage it.

What is “Screen Time”?

  • Screen time can be defined as the total amount of time spent using a device that has a screen, including TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones, and gaming consoles.
  • Screen time can surely contribute to a lifestyle of wellbeing; the digital world can sometimes be beneficial or fun, however we need to make sure we learn how to manage our screen time to ensure that our online presence does not take over our life in the physical world.
  • Like any other aspect of our lives, it is important to be moderate and balanced; spending excessive amounts of time online can have significant impacts on our health, family, relationships, and even on academic performance or work.
  • With more and more mobile devices on the market it is easy and tempting to stay connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it is equally important to know how and when to disconnect, or take a break from digital devices, what some call a “digital detox”.
  • Otherwise, screen time can become a source of many challenges that affect our wellbeing, such as mental, social, emotional, physical and even financial challenges (there are quite a few stories of adults who lost their jobs over a screen time addiction!).

What is too much screen time?

  • This is a good question and unfortunately, there is no golden rule or random magic cutoff number where we can say “no more than X hours per day”.
  • There is also no one-size-fits-all guide for screen time. It varies from person to person, and also depends on the type of usage, and age of the user. Both children and adults may use digital devices for a variety of purposes both positive and negative.
  • On the other hand, several studies recommend that before the age of 2, the only screen-time permitted is live video-chatting given that it provides an opportunity for real-time facial interaction. Apart from that, no screen-time should be provided.¹ It is understandable that implementing this may be challenging in today’s digital age, but it is best for screen-time to be kept at a minimal level as much as possible before the age of 2.
  • Moreover, as today’s world becomes increasingly dependent on digital technologies, the concept of “screen time” is becoming more and more outdated.
  • Rather than solely thinking of “screen time” quantity, let’s also think of screen time quality or digital media quality. How are we spending time on screens? Who are we spending it with?

It’s unrealistic and probably harmful to eliminate screen time completely from our lives. How can we protect ourselves from the downside of screen time? How can we approach screen time wisely and positively, to make the most out of it?

There are multiple ways to assess whether our approach to screen time is healthy:

  • For example, it is useful to assess the quality of the content viewed and whether the time spent on screens is enjoyable.
  • Additionally we may assess whether we are generally able to socialize with family and friends, enjoy other activities that don’t require a screen, and engage well with school/work.
  • Other ways to assess screen time usage is whether we are generally physically healthy and getting enough sleep.

Another way to detect a screen time issue in advance is to look out for the symptoms below, especially amongst children:

  • Ongoing headaches, eye strain and sleep disturbance
  • Frequent back pains and feeling overly tired
  • Online activities interfering with health and wellbeing, schoolwork and relationships, sometimes with noticeable declines in school or work performance
  • Feeling lonely, agitated, aggressive, angry, and/or tense
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Constantly talking about particular online programs, such as a gaming site and attributing more importance to online activities and contacts than anything else
  • Withdrawal from ‘real world’ friends and activities; difficulty making ‘real world’ friends

It’s unrealistic and probably harmful to eliminate screen time completely from our lives. How can we protect ourselves from the downside of screen time? How can we approach screen time wisely and positively, to make the most out of it?

Awareness:

  • It’s important to be aware of how time spent online may be affecting our friendships, family, schoolwork, and sleep, especially if it’s keeping us up at night.
  • If any of these areas of our life are becoming problematic then it is likely that we need to assess our usage and cut back in the amount of time we spend online.
  • Simply, we need to notice two main things: 1. the quality of our screen time content and 2. whether our lifestyle overall is balanced with other off-screen activities. Are we able to enjoy other activities without a screen?
  • Additionally, when thinking about screen time quality, it is important to notice whether our screen time usage is productive or passive.
  • Active, productive users for example engage with others positively and learn online.
  • Passive users tend to scroll through online content without awareness or engagement, which can hinder screen time quality, and affect our well-being negatively.

Technology:

  • There are apps that help us monitor screen time usage, and manage time spent by setting time limits. Check the resources section for suggestions.
  • Ideally, best apps enable us to monitor both quantity: how much time is spent and quality: on what it’s spent.
  • Still, what is more important is to have the right discipline and awareness from our side.

Other small decisions that make an impact:

  • Turn off screens when not in use. This will limit distractions and allow us to be more mindful and engaged in whatever other activities we are doing.
  • Turn off notifications to limit distractions. Keep only necessary ones.
  • Remember to check for features on social media platforms that provide usage reports.
  • Commit to creating a screen-free environment a minimum of one hour before sleeping. Too much screen exposure can interfere with our sleep/wake cycle, which in turn can affect our weight and overall wellbeing.
  • It is also suggested to use the nighttime or night mode setting on digital devices to reduce light exposure in the evenings.

With all the notifications and things to miss out on, it can be easy to get “glued” and sucked into the screen. What can we do when we begin to lose screen time balance, or when we overdose on screen time?

  • As with excessive consumption of anything, excessive screen time and consumption of digital media can surely impact our well-being negatively.
  • If our screen time usage is becoming excessive, there are several ways to control it, many which also apply to the prevention phase.
  1. Monitor usage to understand just how much time per day is spent on all digital devices. This can be an eye-opener.
    • A media time calculator can be used to facilitate the calculation of screen time of family members
    • Other Screen Time tech tools can be used such as the Apple Screen Time feature, or other apps listed in the additional resources section.
  2. Introduce new exciting activities that may replace some of the time spent on screens.
  3. Set a family media plan and practice committing to it. Part of the agreement could be wifi-free or screen-free timings such as mealtimes, at least an hour before bedtime, etc.
  4. Remember to turn of unnecessary notifications to avoid distractions and the urge to constantly check the screen.

What happens when excessive consumption turns into addiction?

  • Recently, specialists have been debating that an excessive consumption can lead to an addiction such as gaming addiction or smartphone addiction, that is diagnosed just as a true drug addiction is diagnosed.
  • It is important to understand that there is a difference between spending too much time on screens versus a true diagnosed addiction.
  • If an addiction is suspected and further guidance is needed, it is generally advisable to seek an expert’s help. Call our Digital Wellbeing Support Line 800-91 to get free counseling services on digital challenges.