Screen time has become a dirty phrase, but it doesn't have to be this way...
There are easy and effective ways to regulate your and your children's screen time.
How much screen time is too much?
Unless you’re planning on joining an Amish community, recreating Robinson Crusoe or otherwise totally disconnecting from the 21st century, having to spend at least some time in front of screens is fact of life – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a good film or a sneaky round of Candy Crush from time to time?
In that sense, the most sensible question to ask is how much screen time is too much?
As most of us already know, the answer to this question is different depending on who you are.
Most experts agree that children under 5 should be exposed to screens as little as possible, and only for educational purposes.
For older children and adults, there are no set guidelines.
Nevertheless, based on the fact that we now know that excessive screen time can lead to weight gain & obesity, sleep problems, chronic neck and back problems, mental health issues such as depression & anxiety, as well as decreases in many metrics of cognitive performance, reducing it wherever possible seems to be the most prudent choice.
Fortunately, cutting down the amount of time you spend in front of screens is not only relatively simple, it also opens up plenty of other options for having fun and has a wide array of secondary benefits.
Here are six ideas for how to better regulate your screen time:
1. Develop your relationship with nature
If you’re trying to reduce your screen time, there is no better way to do it than to head to a place where there are no charging stations and signal is limited or even non-existent.
Yes, the great outdoors is calling your name!
Not only do most of us spend too much time in front of screens, we’re also severely nature deprived.
It may have taken thousands of years and paradigm shifting agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions for us to finally wake up to this fact, but science has now conclusively proven what our ancestors always knew:
Nurturing our connection with the natural world is key to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
It’s probably a sign of the dysfunction in our society and the modern condition that we have taken to calling this a ‘dose’ of nature, but that doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of the prescription.
This is just as true (if not more so), for children.
We owe it to younger generations to not only reduce the potential damage done by our over reliance on technology, but also to provide them with the opportunity to connect with nature and understand its intrinsic value – both in terms of our survival as a species and the many wonderful benefits it can provide to us as individuals.
2. Do more exercise and take up low-tech hobbies
Once again, this solution offers benefits far beyond reducing screen time. Next time you’re lazing around and feel yourself reaching for your phone or the remote control for your 8k Smart OLED TV, just don’t.
Instead, why not get up off the couch and do a little exercise?
Sure, you’ve been swearing you’ll do just that every day for years and sometimes you even follow through, but it has never quite turned into a habit… But whose fault is that?
It’s quite simple really.
Use a sticky note to remind yourself to exercise before you start playing, watching or reading.
Ask a family member or friend to help you stay accountable, or be that person for your kids.
Use a focus app to lock yourself out of certain devices or apps at specific times of day and set concrete limits on your children’s tech usage.
Basically, do whatever it takes to help yourself integrate this new behavior into your routine.
If you already feel like you do enough exercise, take up a new (or old, depending on how you look at it) low-tech hobby such as painting, gardening, building models or playing board games.
The truth is that are infinite enjoyable and educational activities that don’t involve screens, meaning the only excuse for spending too much time looking at one is what you might call a good old fashioned lack of discipline.
3. Reduce your screen time at work whenever possible
The average adult in a developed country or who has consistent access to technology will spend somewhere between 6-19 hours of their day in front of a screen, depending on which studies you want to believe.
Both the upper and lower ends of those estimates can probably be discounted right off the bat, but one thing that is just about certain is that if you’re spending too much time in front of a screen, your work is probably the main culprit.
Unfortunately, screen time at work is also by far the hardest to avoid.
That said, it’s normally possible to at least reduce it a little bit without compromising your ability to fulfill your responsibilities.
There are plenty of tasks that don’t require the use of a screen. These include brainstorming (which can be done outdoors or in a conference room), delivering important messages in person (also a way to team build) and many others.
If your job absolutely requires you to be in front of a screen at all times (or even if it doesn’t), it may be worthwhile to speak to your boss about creating a space and/or time where people can get away from the screens for a while – be it to meditate, socialize or simply disconnect for a few minutes.
There is now ample evidence that taking breaks and reducing screen time at work improves overall productivity and employees’ subjective sense of well-being, meaning this idea makes good business sense as well.
4. Leave your devices at home whenever possible
It’s a common refrain that our technology is an extension of ourselves. This is certainly true to some degree, but it’s also a dangerous way to think.
At the end of the day, nothing bad will happen if you leave your devices at home.
Sure, there are exceptions to every rule. Nobody is suggesting that you leave your phone at home when you’re expecting a call about how your grandma’s open heart surgery went or while your kids are away at primitive survival camp learning how to make flint weapons and identify the difference between toxic and edible fungi.
The rest of the time, you’ll likely be better off without the distraction of a screen.
You may feel somewhat ‘naked’ the first few times you leave the house without your constant source of low-level electromagnetic poison, but you’ll soon start feel much better without it and will likely realize that most things you do on devices can wait until later.
In short, this is your chance to really stop and smell the roses rather than take a picture of them!
5. Don't spend family time or date night in front of a screen
It doesn’t matter how much your kids want to see the new Marvel movie (of course, you only watch that ‘garbage’ for them, right!) or how intellectually superior watching art nouveau films in converted churches filled with other hipsters makes you feel, screen time is not quality time!
By all means, enjoy some streaming with your partner after the kids go to bed once in a while and humor the little ones by joining them for a few rounds of zombie slaying every now and again, but try to avoid the trap of spending all your shared time in front screens.
As we discussed above, you likely already have to try hard to avoid screen time at work, so choosing to spend your leisure time in front of one is somewhat counterproductive.
Choosing to spend your quality time with family and friends doing some of the non-screen related activities mentioned in other parts of this article will not only help you to avoid excessive screen time, but also allow you to build deeper connections with the people you care about.
Now, who doesn’t need more of that?
Getting the 'right' kind of screen time
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