Whether it’s smart phones, broadcast TV, Netflix, YouTube, or video games, you’ve heard the advice time and time again (and you’ve probably ignored it): Limit your screen time. But how?
Here are three quick tips to manage media.
Tip number 1: Clock screen time.
To keep yourself safe and sane with screen time, first off, you have to care. If you simply don’t care how much screen time you’re getting, then of course it’s easy to rack up 7, 8... 12 hours staring at a screen each day.
Technology can be amazing. Or, it can negatively impact our health and wellness, even when we don’t realize it. Excessive screen time affects our fitness levels, our sleep and brain development, and it tends to leech away some of our essential social skills. The more you learn to stare at a screen, the less you learn how to talk to people. Related, more than four hours of screen time a day puts us at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse.
All of that said, if you do care, and you want to balance your devices with the rest of life, aim for two hours of unstructured screen time a day. This means entertainment-based screen or Internet use, apart from work or school. Less than four hours is a good start, less than two hours is even better.
Begin by being mindful of how many shows you are binge-watching, how long you’re aimlessly scrolling your social media feeds, or how long you’ve been sitting and playing your favorite game. How do you do that? Phones have built-in logs where you can monitor your usage, so check that out in the settings, or download the app called Moment, which helps you measure how much time you're spending on your phone and which apps you're using most.
This is helpful, even if the number is high. Once you know your average number of hours a day, then you can decide what you’d like to do.
Tip number 2: Limit allurement.
Plain and simple: Out of sight, out of mind.
For young kids, get rid of any TV, computer, or other Internet device in the bedroom. This can work for adults too. So many people say, “But I need to fall asleep to the sound of the TV.” Medically speaking, and to be brutally honest, no, you do not. You might like a fan or other white noise that helps cancel out distracting noises as you drift to sleep, but that can be done without a screen.
Check into family features and screen time limits on your devices. There are timers that you can use, and most game consoles come with built in logs-- check the preferences and put those to use. Teens often know their way around such limitations, so adolescents will have to be involved in their own media management. Not an easy task. That’s why limiting the access is a start.
If the phone is an issue, keep it in one room, and one room only, then only use it there during certain hours of the day. We are more likely to pile up mindless screen time while laying in bed, so it could be smart to ditch the smart phone for the night. You can always keep it where you can still hear the calls in emergency. Otherwise, put it out of arm’s reach.
Tip number 3: Make it purposeful.
If you are not conscious of what’s happening, time can tick away very quickly while on a device or in front of a screen.
Change the settings and turn off auto-play. Once the next YouTube video or Netflix show begins, we’re likely to remain caught up and stuck watching. Most shows are set-up with cliffhangers to lure you in watch more. Be cognizant of this.
Media hack: If you need to check out the cliffhanger, watch the next 10-15 minutes of the new episode, then turn it off. Notice when the next conflict begins, and then click it off for another day.
If it’s social media, you can make things purposeful by scrolling at certain day times to see what friends and family are up to. These check-ins and messaging are in fact socially healthy. The mindless part begins after seeing recent updates or messages-- social media is set up like this on purpose to keep users using. Each platform has a never ending scroll feature. Once you are aware of this, you can realize that it’s okay to stop scrolling. You aren’t missing out on anything except your own life.
Media hack: Stop scrolling when you no longer see anyone you know in real life.
Finally, schedule media time with friends! This is where you can catch a movie together or watch the same show or play video games together. This purposeful use of media can boost your social health, and that’s the point. Just agree to be done at a certain time or move on to a different activity.
We can’t go from eight hours of screen time to two hours of screen time in one day. Start small, but keep things going. Good luck!
“Growing Up Great!”
For more health tips geared towards adolescent boys, check out Growing Up Great!, a body-positive guide to getting through puberty confidently by respecting the body and all of its changes.