Your screen time was up 20% last week, for an average of 7 hours, 25 minutes a day.
Those weekly notifications that we all get just love to remind us exactly how much of our days we are wasting away staring at our phones. I know I never like knowing how much my screen time each week is. Our lives are consumed by screens, however they’re not always bad. While we are following stay at home orders and doing remote learning, this is the ideal time to take note of what is healthy screen usage for you and what is not, since our usage may be more extreme and obvious. I believe it’s all about finding the balance for you personally.
To find this balance, it’s important to acknowledge and locate where the problem is stemming from for you personally. For me, I’m guilty of resorting to curing my boredom by using my phone. It’s so easy to go on Instagram, Snapchat, or scroll aimlessly through TikTok for too long. This is what I consider to be unhealthy usage. If you discount all screen time as bad screen time, it will be hard to make a change since we can’t avoid having to use screens for work and remote learning each day.
When I’m talking about my screentime, I’m not really factoring calling or FaceTiming into it, as it is replacing a lot of the connections I would normally make on a daily basis. This is where screentime can be helpful, and positive. However, as a result of the negative, useless screen time, I’ve begun to notice my habits and dislike them (and my phone).
For some, it may not be what specific apps you are using, but when you are using them. “It really depends if you are detaching from that screen and if you are interacting with people at the appropriate times. I think it’s more about the appropriateness in use of screen time. When you’re not using it appropriately, that’s where you see the impact,” said Kim Cassamas, ORHS School Counselor.
A good example of bad times to use screens would be in social situations. Having strong social skills is super important, and we simply cannot escape situations where we use them, no matter how much we might want to at times. It’s far too easy to just stare into your phone and tune out the world around you. “Because everyone’s communicating through their devices and not in person, people are really missing those non-verbal cues; they don’t know how to read the room. When you’re doing all your communication through screens, a lot is missed through that,” said Cassamas.
Cassamas referred to studies on this aspect of screen time. One such study tested two groups of children; one group went to a camp for five days where they were without screens, and the other group followed their normal school schedule, and were not restricted from using screens. The children were being scored on their ability to identify a range of emotions in people. “The study found that children who spent 5 days without screen use and with encouraged face to face interactions had a significant improvement in their scores compared to the beginning of the week,” according to “Screen Time May Affect Social Interaction Skills in Children,” by Beth Israel Lahey Health.
We’re on our phones a lot more, but we should be sure to have time away so our social skills don’t start to suffer. This increase is having various effects. “I’ve definitely been on my phone a lot more [in quarantine]. I’m in my room a lot more so there’s not someone watching me or saying ‘do the reading’ or ‘stay focused.’ I’m checking my notifications more,” said Maggie Sperry (‘21).
Leah Weeks, a member of the ORCSD community with two kids ages 9 and 13 has also seen the effects of this increase on her children.“Too much screen time equals grouchy children. Much of the content they watch on YouTube/TikTok is just plain dumb. Some screen time in the current situation allows connection with friends, and games like Minecraft offer a creative side,” she said.
For Weeks’ children, if screens can be used as a creative outlet or a connection tool, that’s great, and she may consider that a positive usage for them. This is an example of finding the balance. Weeks recognizes that for her children, YouTube and TikTok are negative usages but other apps aren’t, and knowing that, she can help her kids balance their screen time.
Whatever those unhealthy usages are for you, too much negative usage of screens can impact many different things. For some, it may be their focus. “I think I have a shorter attention span because of how much I’m on my phone. I’m always going back and forth between checking it and real conversations,” said Liam Ashburner (‘21).
For others, it could be their happiness. A study was done by the University of Michigan that found that “after rising since the early 1990s, adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness plunged after 2012, the year smartphone ownership reached the 50 percent mark in the United States, the report said,” according to “Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier — up to a point, new research shows” by The Washington Post.
If you want to see a change in attention span, happiness, or any other negative effects screens have on you, use this time to become aware of what aspects of our screen time are causing them. Is it schoolwork that’s unhealthy, or is it Snapchat? During this quarantine we have a really unique opportunity and should take advantage of it.
Even though it can be scary at times, a great place to start is going into settings to check what apps you’re spending the most time on. From there, be honest with yourself and determine what was healthy or unhealthy. Having done this in quarantine, with the numbers on each app higher than normal, I was able to tell more dramatically what apps I was wasting my day away on.
Take time to get away from the screen and get those numbers displayed in your settings down. To do that, something I’ve found really helpful is setting time limits on certain apps that I find sucking way too much of my day away. When I go into an app and see that I’ve exceeded my screen time limit for the day, it helps me consider if it’s worth avoiding that message and going into the app anyways.
If you keep your face locked into a screen you could be missing the chance to have a good conversation, find a new book, or discover something you had a hidden talent for. All of those activities don’t require a screen, and are much better without them.
Sperry has found success in getting away from her phone and trying something new. “I have always wanted to learn sign language so I signed up for a sign language class to learn that during quarantine. I’ve started reading books, and I signed up for Khan Academy for SAT prep. I’ve been doing a lot more than just being on my phone.”
As Pediatrician Michael Rich said, “boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen,” according to “Screen Time and the Brain” by Harvard Medical School.
In the end, none of us are perfect, but use this time where you might be at your maximum screen time to evaluate your habits, and see if there’s a change you can make. Ask yourself what parts of screen time are healthy, and what you could cut back on. You have to start somewhere, and becoming aware is the perfect place to start.
Images by Chase Amarosa