Balancing your screen and real-world time
Developmentally speaking, during adolescence you are grappling with the dilemma of ‘identity formation’ as you dwindle being a child and an adult. It is a time that is equated with puberty, wherein, you undergo a cycle of physical changes that bring an upsurge of sexual feelings. You feel weighed down by the uncertainty of this period that brings along an in-flow of emotional, moral, and social changes.
You’re in process of taking strides away from your family, with bold steps towards independence. You’re struggling with a host of trying emotions like insecurity, vulnerability, and rebellion, with excess self-consciousness and a dire need for peer acceptance. Validation from age mates then becomes your primary need. And, the current need for social distancing to contain the virus, further complicates your turbulent teen years.
Doesn’t this make social isolation as lethal as the virus for the teens?
I guess not really! Not if you turn to virtual connectivity to stay in the orbit of your friends. This allows you to retain some “normalcy” and step away from the stressors of the ongoing pandemic, even if for a short span. With this, screen time becomes your lifeline.
The blessing in disguise is that the current shared experience has temporarily put your parents in the ‘hot state’ of anxiety too. Your parents may have become more empathetic towards your feelings and struggles. Recent studies suggest that close to 23% of parents have stopped applying the ‘typical restrictive’ rules around screen time.
Regardless, the consent to use social media and screen time doesn’t solve much of the problems that you face while you use it. This is so because your social world online is as confusing and unstable as your reality. It is common for you to fixate over the wordings of a text or a comment by a friend for days altogether or for you to check your friend’s profiles and feel low as you aren’t able to do as much or have as many followers. The cherry on the cake is that social media reinforces superficiality and show off, which leads to a build-up of comparisons with feelings of despair. Not only this, people only post the best moments from their lives to pretentiously show how perfect their life is. Additionally, as a teen, you may also feel attracted to the charms of adulthood, and the virtual world seems more interesting to you than your real world. The cycle of increased screen time then becomes self-perpetuating.
As much as virtual technologies lead to positive outcomes like reuniting your family and peers at the time of social isolation, it does have a dark side to it. That is the capacity to bring out the worst in humans, such as bullying, betrayal, hatred, and estrangement. And all this has the impact of putting your mental health in jeopardy. Research suggests that excess screen time adversely impacts your body clock and nervous system, thereby, disrupting your mood, sleep patterns, concentration, and attention in the long run.
It is therefore vital to combat the effects of overstimulation from screen time and to effectively manage your screen time.
FOUR STRATEGIES TO REDUCE SCREEN TIME
- Initiate Off-Screen Bonding – It may be tempting to spend all your free time either on Facebook, texts, Snapchat, Instagram or simply binge-watching Netflix. This is particularly because you’re locked down with your parents at an age where you’re retaliating for independence and would surely need some space of your own, even if that space is just a little distance between your face and the screen. But, for your own and the sanity of your family as a unit, it is important to support one another right now. It is indeed a tough time for everyone, so instead of expecting yourself or your parents to go all out, it’s wiser for each one to walk a mile and meet midway.
- Screen-free meals – Meal time truly appears to be ideal for catching up on movies or series you must be watching. However, not being on your phones, tablets, or laptops during this hour gives your eyes some rest, making it a good time to initiate small conversations with your family for staying connected.
- Participate in household chores – These are turbulent times with little to no external help. By taking up responsibility for even the smallest task, like feeding and walking your dog, or simply making your bed in the morning, you can not only cut down on your screen time, but you can foster a cordial relation with your parents and it also serves your quest for independence. It’s a win-win. Isn’t it?
- Bring in Mindfulness and Nature – Plants, trees, and other forms of greenery restore your attention, concentration, and enhances your capacity to cope with screen triggered stressors. Also, daily exposure to sunlight enriches you with vitamin D, restores your circadian rhythms that regulate your sleep patterns, and make you feel more calm, positive, and focussed.
- Practice mindfulness – Take out some time to do yoga, meditation or deep breathing as it calms your mind, reduces stress, improves blood circulation and oxygen supply to your brain. The benefit multiplies tenfold if you do this in your balcony, terrace or any place in your house that exposes you to sunlight and has some greenery. This does wonders in counterbalancing the overstimulation you receive from your digital sedentary lifestyle.
- Exercise or include some physical activity – Exercising, preferably close to nature under the open sky, has been closely linked to fighting depression, bringing clarity in thought, enhancing your focus, fighting insomnia, and reducing anxiety. It also discharges the pent up energy that aids in mood regulation and better decision making. Make sure to make this time fun and fully packed with energy by bringing in variations in your workouts – you can subscribe to various youtube channels and do bhangra workouts, Bollywood style dance sessions, aerobics or even Zumba through videos. You can also download fitness-based apps and customise your workout session there.
- Practice Good Sleep Hygiene – The surge of lockdown brought along haphazard routines which have lead to disrupted sleep patterns. This lowers your immunity and drains your mental ability to think, to be attentive, and to concentrate. It is then crucial, to intervene to aid a good night’s sleep so you can be alert the subsequent day.
- Attune yourself to natural light’s cycle – To maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, it is essential to mimic nature’s light in your sleep pattern. Exposure to sunlight during the day and darkness at night visually signals the brain about bedtime. You can further stimulate sleep by ensuring that the bright lights from the TV, phones, or lamps are off. Also, you can enhance the quality of your sleep at night by cutting down on your day time naps.
- Screen-free bedtime – Research suggests that humans tend to condition and pair two recurrently occurring stimuli together. Say, for instance, if you continue to watch TV when you’re all cozy in bed, not only will be there be an increased likelihood of you staying up till late, but there is a high chance that each time you’d be on the bed, you’d want to watch something before you fall asleep. It is, therefore, a good idea to watch TV on your couch in a common area which makes it easier for you to stop when you feel sleepy.
- Manage Your Time – Being updated about your friends and age mates is not only important but it’s fun for many of you. Also, utilising all this extra time to catch up on movies you missed, shows you skipped, and on video games you love, is luring and makes up for an attractive offer. But, all screen and nothing else can make you dull or even induce depressive moods and lethargy. You must take charge and ace your time management skills to have a well-rounded schedule.
- Set timers on social media usage – Most applications have a built-in option for setting timers to regulate your usage. Once you’ve been on the app, may it be Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook for the set time limit, your phone will send you a notification as a reminder. The next step is to gradually work on reducing this time, particularly on days when your screen time is high for other reasons like homework, or because you watched a movie.
- Set Screen-free zones – Together with your family or by yourself, decide certain areas in your house (like bedroom, dining table etc) where the use of electronics will be restricted unless it is an emergency. This eliminates distraction and makes you more present to the ‘here and now’.
- Find alternatives to your boredom – It is common to turn to social media and to aimlessly scroll your feed due to boredom. The idea is to connect with a hobby like you can read a book, sing, dance, do some creative artwork, or even write. This will counteract your screen time significantly by keeping you involved in another productive task.
Take Away Message – We live in a digitalized world that has further turned to virtual living due to the current outbreak of coronavirus and the impending need for social isolation. From attending classes to exercising, we have shifted to a completely virtual life. This, for sure, has turned your world upside down, making the task of managing your screen time more challenging than ever. It is undeniably true that technology in itself is not your foe and has its perks of connecting you to your loved ones in times of disarray like now. However, the key is to master control over it so it doesn’t control you.
Although, it’s uncalled for to let go of your screen time entirely, as, in moderation, it is quite useful right now. But, you must incorporate these strategies daily to take planned and systematic breaks from your screens. This can go a long way in protecting you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
It’s time to take back the reins from electronic devices and establish a balanced life.
What strategy do you feel will work for you the most? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.