Strive for balance
Screens offer many advantages that make our lives easier and improve our everyday activities. However, when they are overused or misused, they can have the opposite effect by being detrimental to our well-being and our daily lives. This is why, as a family, it is important to strive toward a use that is as balanced as possible… and it’s not only a question of the time spent online!
Assess your habits
To assess your child’s habits (and yours!), there are three important elements to consider… and several questions to ask yourself.
1. Screen time
Checking social media every day, watching Netflix as a family every evening, in addition to using the computer for school or work… We completely lose track of the time spent in front of screens!
Try to estimate the amount of time that you and your family spend online:
- How much time per day? Per week? During time off?
- Do you sometimes binge watch, for example, watching back-to-back episodes of a TV show?
- Do you sometimes use several screens at the same time, like texting while watching TV?
- Do you spend time online at the expense of certain spheres of your life such as your relationships, your studies or your work?
The goal is not to eliminate screens from your life, but rather to first become aware of how you use them, then, if necessary, to reduce your screen time by taking regular breaks… in short, to unplug to better replug later.
2. Content quality
Online activities are not created equal in terms of quality. Some are more beneficial than others. In general, is the content your family consumes:
- high quality, specifically content that is educational, unifying or interactive (e.g., video tutorials, movies watched as a family, Facebook study groups, applications dedicated to creating original content)?
- medium quality, specifically content that is isolating or that we consume passively (e.g., video games we play alone, streaming videos, Instagram newsfeed)?
- “empty digital calories” (e.g., constantly scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, watching one too many episodes on Netflix, racking up the cat video views on YouTube)?
The goal is to prioritise content that adds something positive and provides benefits… in short, to improve your digital well-being.
3. Times of use
There are good times to watch screens and other moments where these become obstacles that cut us off from the offline world and the people around us.
In general, are the moments when members of your family use screens:
- appropriate (e.g., for work, for school, to answer a call)?
- inappropriate (e.g., during a family meal, in the middle of a conversation, during school or work, during a meeting where attention is required)?
The goal is to reduce screen use at inappropriate times… in short, to fully enjoy your offline moments.
The impact of screens on our lives
Smartphones, tablets and computers have many advantages, but their use also includes risks. Here is an overview of the pros and cons.
Be careful with the use of the term “cyberaddiction”! A teen can spend a lot of time checking social media or playing video games without necessarily being cyber-addicted. To find out more, read the “When to worry” blog post.
For the body
There are a multitude of websites, video games and apps that encourage us to move, do physical activity, and take care of our health.
The overuse of screens increases the risk of physical inactivity, excess weight and fatigue, and can cause insomnia, neck pain, headaches, vision problems, and more.
For the mind
Several websites and apps promote mental health, notably by helping us better manage our time, develop our creativity, meditate, get rid of a bad habit, or even by offering online therapy services.
Knowledge on this subject is still limited, but some studies reveal that overuse of screens is associated with reduced concentration, memory and self-esteem, increased stress, anxiety and depression as well as development of an addiction.
Social media, forums, blogs, online educational content… All this fosters the development of identity and social skills, access to education, and exposure to different cultures.
Letting online life become more important than offline life can lead to isolation, a decrease in social skills, the deterioration of interpersonal relationships, and difficulties at school or at work.
Who is most at risk?
Some people, such as children, adolescents and young adults, are more at risk of developing a problematic use of Internet and screens.
Children are more easily influenced than adults, and they are particularly vulnerable to online marketing techniques as well as to the various harmful effects of hyperconnectivity. Their brains are developing, so they can lack self-control, judgement and maturity when it comes to screen use.
Even though knowledge on this subject is still limited, some studies show associations between overuse of screens by children and negative impacts on affective, cognitive and motor development, control of emotions, and mental and social health.
Teens and young adults
Youth in this age group are experiencing several important transitions (e.g., end of school, leaving the family home, entering the job market, first romantic relationships, etc.). Moreover, they also often have a lot of free time. Since their brains continue to develop until the age of 25, it can be difficult for them to find a balance between online and offline life.
Even though knowledge on this subject is still limited, some studies show that excessive screen use can have negative effects on learning, memory and brain development. In extreme cases, brain functions associated with attention, impulse control, judgement, problem solving, and decision-making could be affected. The overuse of screens and the Internet also increases the risks of triggering the cycle of addiction.
About the recommendations
The latest recommendations regarding screen use now focus on overall habits rather than only screen time. The Canadian Paediatric Society, for example, has made the following recommendations:
- It is not recommended to let children younger than two years old spend time in front of screens.
- In children aged two to five years, limit daily or regular screen time to less than an hour a day.
- Make sure that periods of physical inactivity in front of screens are not part of regular activities in daycare for children younger than five years old.
- Implement screen-free periods, especially during family meals and book-sharing.
- Avoid screens at least one hour before bedtime because of the potential effects on melatonin suppression.
- Conduct a self-assessment of habits with regard to screens and develop a family plan to determine when, how and where they can and can’t be used.
As a parent, it is important to be aware that screen use involves risks and to strive for balance (rather than a certain number of hours), by limiting screen time but also by prioritising quality content at appropriate times. Managing screens better means doing your best so that the Internet contributes to the development of your child and reducing the risks of screens having negative effects on their global well-being.
Photo credit: Jessica Lewis