Screening for Digital Wellness
By: Jennifer Worley, LPC
In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a well publicized sentiment in social media that time on screens was getting a pass. This was due to the unprecedented shift and stressors of changed interactions via safer at home. The idea of life changing so dramatically for this period of time, wasn't fully known, thus coping through a few weeks or even a few months was a reasonable focus. Fast forward eight months and parents are expressing worries that screen time has gone too far for too long. Plus there is confusion on the quality of the tech time and knowing what screen time is helpful and what isn't. There are reports of: Sullen moods, negative attitude when asked to do activities not tech related, withdrawal, less compliance, more behavior problems and an inability to regulate once off the screen. This leaves adults to wonder how to begin to adjust the course and address the level of integrated screen time in today's realities.
Managing recreational screen time has been tough regardless of changes caused by Covid, but it’s especially difficult today. Boundaries households may have had previously can be difficult to execute. As an example, prior to Covid, families may have turned off the internet for a period of time each week. Now, turning off the internet could mean turning off access to school or work. Further, what to fill the time with? Activities that were once part of the routine are often gone leaving a gap of time and few options to fill it. Plus, adults have their own norms and needs around screen time which influence the household dynamic as well. It's a very individualistic topic, but a starting spot that can be applied to many scenarios is the idea of understanding amounts and intentionality.
In order to assess adjusting day-to-day use, a realistic understanding of how much and for what purpose the kids are utilizing screens is important. It can feel jarring to look at what is vs the goal but it's a critical part of moving towards change.
To begin, you might break down the day down into portions such as: Wake, morning, noon, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, bed time and sleep or night time. Then layer on what's being used during those times.
Is it the TV, Ipad or phone part of the morning routine? For school, is the youth on the computer for 3-5 hours while multitasking with an additional screen close by? If so are they engaging in the lesson or the additional screen? Are afternoons and evenings spent gaming, family movie time, and scrolling social media? How do the bedtime norms unfold? Is the youth up late or waking during the night to check social media or watch videos? Curiosity about reshaping screen time habits and quality of use can lead to an awareness which then informs what adjustments make sense.
Once that foundational understanding is developed, it can be utilized by factoring in different levels of fostering connection or disconnection. Connection would include things like: school, meetings, games with friends and family to name a few. Social media with a close group of friends and family could be connective. Disconnection might include hours of youtube or tik tok, some gaming, TV, and some social media. Further complicating things, there are multitudes of scenarios which may fit in both or neither. Youtube videos in the background while the youth is doing an art project or craft? The child is learning a skill such as cooking, piano or chess through a video or media platform? Those are a few examples of how the process won't be crystal clear however, is a step towards reaching for some middle ground. Screen time goals are dependent on your own norms and might include looking to achieve: More balance, less stimulation, more tolerance for non tech activities and one that many parents describe as "getting their child back". Typically, this is a way of describing reducing the behaviors that they see as second to overstimulation from time on screens.
Screen time is an area that has changed quickly over the past 10 years. In the context of Covid, it continues to rapidly transform and has become even more nuanced.
What's best for kids in the current moment vs big picture can is challenging to sort through. Visiting the concept of connection vs disconnection is one tool in finding a place to begin. Exploring and reshaping those tech time norms even as the landscape changes is possible and also difficult. Understanding the time and quality of the time in order to make realistic and enforceable limits will help inform the process. It can also help guide change even through the emotional storms that may swell during the adjustments.
This blog post is one of a short series on screen time topics.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]