Screen Time: Assessing Yourself and Controlling Use

Cassandra Van Dell

It's no surprise that screen time has increased throughout the pandemic. Kids are connecting to teachers, classmates and friends online, parents are connecting to work virtually, and nearly all of us are looking to our screens for entertainment, relaxation, news and socialization.

However, how do we know when we have exceeded the recommended dose of screen-time and are partaking in less than healthy screen time use?   Are there new measures we need to use to limit our screen time? New ways of looking at our time? New ideas to find a balance that works in what is our new normal life?

Although each of us must find our own answers, general recommendations may help. We know there is a threshold where too much screen time becomes unhealthy. This threshold varies with age, type of screen, content and other individual parameters. One rule of thumb is that when screen use interferes with daily functioning including sleep, exercise, healthy eating and relationships, then it is time to reevaluate and reduce screen use. This may sound easy, but clearly takes a willingness to assess and control yourself to put in practice.

Developing your own strategies to monitor your screen time and determine if screens are helping or detracting from your goals is useful. Whether it's reviewing your daily goals in the morning and the evening or setting clear parameters for nonscreen time, you can challenge yourself to find ways to limit your screen time. For example, you may want to match exercise minutes with screen time this morning. The specifics can be individually driven, but the idea of being aware of how your time is spent and being willing to adjust if it's simply not working, can be for everyone.

When it comes to children, parent or guardian behaviors are strong motivators. Setting rules for screen time is reasonable but be aware that your own screen time practices are key. If you practice what you preach and watch that your screen time does not interfere with your daily life or contradicts what you are trying to teach your children, they might be more receptive to the rules. For example, if the family rule is no screens at mealtime, make a point of putting your device away or turning it off during this period.

Screens are with us for the foreseeable future and are important tools for communication during this pandemic. Learning to assess and control yourself is essential in managing your screen time. The need for screens has clearly changed during this era of limited in-person communication, but general guidelines remain to help us decide how to use our screens wisely. Remember to assess thoughtfully if screen use is helping or hindering you accomplishing your goals. Help the children in your life by demonstrating the value of assessment and control when it comes to the management of your devices. These guidelines, valid even during the pre-COVID era, have the power to last during this time of upheaval and uncertainty, and as we move forward in a new virtual focused world.

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