Screen time

/Tag: Screen time

Five Screen-Time Life Hacks

Written By Dr Tania McMahon

It’s 9pm. You’re exhausted. You’ve just finished dinner, maybe putting the kids to bed, tidying up around the house and vaguely thinking about what you have on tomorrow, and you have approximately one hour before you drag yourself, bleary-eyed, into bed to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow. It’s time for some ‘you’ time! What about checking social media for a few minutes before figuring out what you could do to relax?

It’s 10:15pm, you realise with a start, as you peel your eyes up from Instagram and check the clock. “A few minutes” has turned into over an hour, and any time that could have been spent tinkering on that craft project, strumming on the guitar, or pulling a new book off the shelf has now been sucked up by the black hole of your digital device. While you have a vague sense of being mildly entertained over the past hour, you can’t remember exactly what it was you were looking at, and your brain is in a strange state between buzzing with alertness and feeling strangely fatigued. As you scramble to get ready for bed, you can’t help but notice a strange feeling of discomfort, a low-level frustration that something hasn’t been tended to, or you didn’t finish something; a feeling of being left unsatisfied.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Our devices embody an almost perfect solution to temporary boredom: brief, instant entertainment, on demand. Yet when we find ourselves turning to them at every idle moment, day after day, night after night, we start to realise that they are taking us away from all those things we’d “love to be doing more of”, but that take a little more time and effort to get into. And when we do less and less of those activities we value, we fall more and more into the same trap of turning to our digital devices whenever we have a moment of boredom.

So, how do we hack our way out of this digital ditch? Here are five quick tips to get you started:

1. Categorise screen time into ‘work’ and ‘leisure’.

We all know that some screen time is unavoidable – emails, online banking, checking the bus schedule, and so on. However, this ‘necessary’ screen time need not get mixed in with checking social media, playing games, and browsing the web. By mentally categorising each function, app and activity on your device as ‘work’ or ‘leisure’, you can start to build awareness of your use, and then start to make decisions about how much ‘leisure’ time you really want to spend on it.

2. Track your use

Devices have a funny habit of ‘warping’ time while we’re on them, making it seem like only 10 minutes has passed, when it’s actually been much longer than that. It follows, then, that all of us are rather poor judges of how much time we’re spending on them. By downloading an app that tracks your use (popular options include ‘Quality Time’ for Androids and ‘Moment’ for iPhones), you’ll be able to analyse your use over days, weeks and months, as well as look at patterns of use across the different apps on your device. By knowing when, were and how you use your device the most, you’ll be able to set your own personalised goals for what you’d prefer your use to be like.

3. Set regular screen-free times

While everyone’s screen time rules are ultimately going to be different, a good general rule for everyone to apply is to set at least one regular screen-free time. Some choose a screen-free breakfast, so they can connect meaningfully with their family first thing in the morning; some choose the train or bus trip to work, so they can use it as ‘thinking time’; many choose the hour before bed, because of the strong evidence linking screen use before bed to sleep difficulties. The options are numerous!

4. Change your notification settings

Notifications are designed to catch our attention – a red badge here, a blinking light there. The more we see, the more we feel the compulsion to check them, irrelevant of how important or urgent they actually are (and let’s face it, how many times have those notifications been utter time-wasting distractions??). A simple solution to this is to change your Notification settings so that you only receive Push notifications for things you feel are absolutely necessary. Or, be daring and change them all to Manual!

5. Make your leisure screen time as goal-directed as possible

Get into the habit of asking yourself ‘what am I wanting to achieve by looking at my device right now?’ and ‘is this my preferred use of my time right now’? More often than not, you may find that mindlessly scrolling through social media is not your preferred use of your time. Sure, the answers might be ‘I want some quick entertainment’ and ‘yes, as long as I start making dinner in 10 minutes’, but at least it means that you are consciously making that choice, and that you have defined a meaningful limit to your use. That way, if more than 10 minutes go by and you realise you haven’t started making dinner, you know it's no longer a good use of your time.

Dr Tania McMahon is a clinical psychologist with a particular passion for helping people manage their screen usage. Tania often treats internet and gaming addictions at Benchmark Psychology.

Five Screen-Time Life Hacks2019-03-27T16:13:36+10:00

How much screen time is too much ?

Dr Aaron Frost gives some advice not only on how much screen time children should have access to, but also on what type of screen time causes the most problems.

 

How much screen time is too much ?

 

I get asked this question at least half a dozen times per week. Parents are worried about the amount of time their kids want to spend sitting in front of the TV, iPad, DS, PlayStation, Xbox and various other consoles and hand held devices.  They often tell me things like, “my kids are absolutely feral after they spend a big chunk of time playing games”.

 

When I ask, "why don't you just remove the screens?", I get one or both of the following replies:

 

“I need the time, and leaving them on a computer to play games gives me a chance to catch up”,

 

“All my kids' friends are online, and this is how they communicate with each other, I don’t want him/her missing out”.

 

There are some real potential benefits of having technology in children’s lives, but it can often come at a cost.  The challenge for todays’ parent is to figure out how to get the greatest benefits for the lowest costs.

 

Before I say anything further, it is worth highlighting that the American Academy of Paediatrics has released well researched guidelines clearly stating that two hours per day of screen time is the upper limit for a child.  This is really helpful advice, and sets a good limit.  But what I want to talk about in this article in what type of screen time rather than how much.

 

In my observations both as a parent and a child psychologist, there are three basic types of screen-based activities that a child engages in, and each appear to have different consequences.

 

The first is mindless screen time. This includes games such as candy crush, Plants vs Zombies, binge watching ABC for Kids, and most console games.  Children spending large chunks of time engaged in mindless screen time will often seem most ‘feral’ immediately afterward.  There are a two main reasons for this.  Firstly, children engaged in mindless screen time are less likely to eat, drink and go to the toilet; emotions and behaviour in kids are driven by basic biology far more than most of us realise. Secondly, research conducted by Dr Grant Devilly and his colleagues found one of the main problems with mindless video games is that they don’t have a clear end point.  When a child is reading a book, it is easy to put it down at the end of a page, however, when a child is killing zombies, or lining up shiny jewels there is no clear end.  When they are finally forced off the game by their parents, children then experience high levels of anger and resentment. This is often where the “feral” mood sets in.

 

Mindless screen time should be avoided as much as possible, and it is up to parents to limit children’s exposure to this.  Mindless video games are designed by their manufacturers to be compulsive, which is how they become best sellers.  They are the junk food of screen time; a bit is ok every now and then, but too much too often is going to cause problems.

 

The second type of screen-based activity is engaged, and actualy involves the child’s brain being active.  Some of these screen activities are educational, most are not, but the key point here is that the child is mentally stimulated and fully engaged.  Please note that I am not a games reviewer, and do not endorse or have not been paid by any of these companies, but here are some examples to give you an idea of what to look for when shopping for games.

 

Reading Eggs  

 

This game is aimed at younger children learning to read.  It is engaging and educational, and designed to have small chunks of learning which matches the attention span of the children it is aimed at.  There are lots of natural breaks, and it is easy to say to a child “come off the computer when this level is finished”.

 

Tiny Bang Story

 

This has been a recent discovery for our family.  It involves a beautifully hand drawn world that has experienced a tiny explosion that has jumbled up all of the technology.  The task of the child is to find all of the pieces and to put the world back together, one level at a time.  It involves lots of lateral thinking, creative problem solving, and again there are many natural breaks for the child to step away form the screen.

 

 

Crayon Physics

 

This game involves a series of deceptively simple puzzles.  In each puzzle, the child has to move a ball from its start point to an end point by drawing things.  Everything they draw has real properties in physics. For example, if you draw a square in the air, gravity will make it drop the ground. If the square hits another object on the way down, this will cause the object it hits to move relative to the length of the drop and the size of the object.  Children have to figure out how to solve each puzzle using the properties of the objects they draw.  Once again, their brain is engaged, and there are lots of natural breaks incorporated.

 

 

This type of active screen time appears to be far less unhealthy for children (up to the time limits above).  They are less likely to have huge tantrums when finishing, and the compulsive nature to their play is greatly reduced.  These games are also excellent as they offer great opportunities for you and your child to do something together.  You would be amazed at how quickly the entire family will get involved in trying to figure out how to push a tiny red ball up a hill.

 

The final type of screen time is creative, and involves children using their imagination to create things using a computer.  Examples include Crayola DigiTools, iMovie, Photoshop, Lego Island and even a game like Minecraft.  The key element to all of these games is that the child uses their imagination and is creating things.  When a child is using one of these applications, their behaviour afterward appears to be no worse than if they had spent an hour drawing pictures or painting.  Obviously, it is important that computer based creativity doesn’t replace real world creativity, but these types of screen based activity should be looked at more in the light of a modern version of arts and craft.

 

However, even these type of activities don’t always get a completely clean bill of health.  Some of these activities have a multiplayer component which can be just as addictive as any mindless computer game.  While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with multiplayer games, the social element draws some children (especially those who are less socially successful in real life) into spending far more time on these games than they had intended, and this can lead to them becoming very compulsive.

 

They key point here is that as parents it is important for us to learn about what our kids are playing.  What they are playing is at least as important as how long they are playing.  It is worth spending the time getting to understand the games they are interested in and what it is about these games that is attractive.  Think about the mix of mindless games, vs creative and engaged games, and notice how your child reacts to both long and short periods of playing these games.  Who knows, you might find a game you both enjoy, which can become a real relationship building activity for you.

 

Please note:  Aaron has not received any kind of payment for his opinions regarding these particular products.

How much screen time is too much ?2019-03-26T20:10:35+10:00