Screen Time and Healthy Balance

Spending time online can be amazing – there are opportunities to play games, watch shows, chat with friends, learn new things, and so much more.

With each new device that can connect to the internet, each new app that helps pass the time and each new Wi-Fi hotspot enabling you to connect whenever and wherever you want, it’s easier than ever before to live almost our entire lives online.

Of course, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should and many people are now starting to question how healthy it is to spend so much time on our devices.

Is the time I spend online hurting me?

Although we may often hear about how damaging spending lots of time online can be, or even how staring at screen will “rot our brains”, research in this area isn’t quite so scary. Whilst it’s true that spending extended periods of time online can have negative consequences, there’s no evidence to say that screen time itself is inherently dangerous.

In fact, a study undertaken by researchers at Cardiff University and the University of Oxford proposed the Goldilocks theory:

“There is a point between low and high use of technology that is ‘just right’ for teenagers when their sense of wellbeing is boosted by having ‘moderate’ amounts of screen time.”

There’s lots of different factors which are going to impact whether you’re having a good time online and how good being online is for you. For example:

  • How are you spending time online? Some online activities can help you develop skills like communication, creativity or critical thinking.
  • Is your time online displacing other things? It’s not a good idea to spend time online when you should be doing other things like studying or sleeping.
  • Are you staying safe online? Avoid sharing things like personal information online and protect yourself when interacting with strangers.

So what it all comes down to is finding a healthy balance which works for you.

How do I find a healthy balance?

That’s the tricky part, because what works for one person won’t necessarily be right for someone else. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide which will hopefully help you get started… 

  • Step 1: Recognise the signs you experience when being online gets too much Open or Close

    Everybody experiences different signs when they’re online too long.

    Some might be physical symptoms: a headache, blurry vision, a stiff neck or even just feeling hungry!

    Other signs could be emotional, like feeling irritated if you get distracted from your online activities, upset by something you’ve seen, or even bored – like the internet has nothing more to offer you.

    There’s also signs from your device itself – it may be low on battery or get very hot if you use it continuously. And have you ever got that message from your device where it asks if you’re still watching?

    Finally you may experience signs from the world around you – a friend or family member complaining that you’re always looking at your phone, or maybe you glance at the clock and suddenly realise that several hours have passed without you noticing.

    Think about what signs you’ve experienced as you’ll need them for Step 2.

  • Step 2: Work out your limits and change in response to them Open or Close

    Once you start to recognise the signs that being online is getting too much, you can start to work out your limits:

    -          Maybe playing your favourite game for more than an hour at a time gives you a headache,

    -          Maybe messaging your friends late in the evening makes it difficult to sleep,

    -          Maybe you find you get bored if you scroll through social media more than a twice a day,

    Whatever it is that is triggering the signs you experience, how can you change your online behaviour to minimise them?

    Lots of the time, it may be as simple as scheduling a break from your device and finding something else to do instead. That might be jobs you have to get done like chores or homework, but don’t forget to have fun offline too! Meet up with friends, talk with family or try a new hobby – find something that makes you feel good and can balance out the time you spend online.

  • Step 3: Use device settings to help Open or Close

    Habits can be hard to break and having the willpower to put down a device which is such a big part of your life can be challenging. This is where Step 3 comes in.

    Have you ever noticed how devices and technology are really good at hooking us in? Who hasn’t been in that situation where you’ve just decided to put your phone down for a bit, when a notification comes through and suddenly you just have to check what your friend has put on social media? Or you’ve finished watching a video or TV show, but then suddenly the website is suggesting another to you and before you know it you’ve watched 5 more back-to-back?

    Devices, technology and apps are engineered to keep users engaged. They have been designed to hook us in time and time again, and this can pile on the pressure without us even noticing.

    Luckily there’s often settings you can put in place to help with this: things like turning off push notifications so you’re not getting drawn into apps all the time or turning off Autoplay on videos so that a new one doesn’t start as soon as the previous has finished.

    You can also get timers on some devices which will automatically kick you off or lock you out after a certain amount of time. It might sound silly, but can be useful if you need to prioritise something else – like revising.

  • Step 4: Speak to someone Open or Close

    If all else fails, and it turns out time management just isn’t your forte, then it’s really important that you don’t just give up and let the devices win.

    Speaking to someone about the problems you’re having will not only make you feel better, but means they can offer you support and guidance in managing your time more effectively.

    Talk to your friends – they may have gone through the same thing and have helpful tips they can share with you. You could also buddy up and schedule breaks from your devices at the same time.

    Talk to your family – they can support you at home by keeping you occupied when you’re not on your device or even by taking your device off you for set periods of time.

    Talk to someone at school – they’ll have access to guidance and support which they can share with you and they’ll be impressed that you’ve taken the initiative of trying to get help.

    Talk to ChildLine – it’s easy to dismiss screen time as something which is easily fixed, but this isn’t always the case. It’s okay to ask for help and you’re not alone in having to cope with the pressures of being online. If you don’t want to speak to someone you know, then ChildLine can help. You can reach them via their website or via telephone on 0800 11 11.

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