Digital wellbeing: limiting screens after lockdown

Jul 8, 2020 | children online, Unplugging

Thanks to Covid-19 everywhere across the globe we’ve all been living under some form of lockdown, or movement restriction, for the last few months. Inevitably, this has led to a big spike in the time that we’ve all been online. Some statistics from Australia indicated that the average network use per person across the country increased by 70-80%. As a response, more than three quarters of American families say that they now plan to take a digital detox after lockdown, in order to mitigate some of the effects the pandemic has had on their screen use. 28% even said that they were planning to enforce a digital detox for one day or more a week. Whilst much of that time online was necessary, as we all began to work and attend school from home, some of it looks like it may have been excessive and harmful to our health and general digital wellbeing.

Under perfect conditions the WHO recommends that other than video calls children under 18 months should not be exposed to screens at all. That children under 5 should not be viewing more than an hour per day (accompanied by an adult), and that older children should at most be spending 1-2 hours online each day. Importantly, they emphasise that in order to ‘grow up healthy’ children need to sit less and play more.

As with adults, excessive screen use can lead to problems in children around sleep, concentration, and mental health. Concerningly it can also be linked to developmental delays in some children. In one study it appeared that children who watched TV before their first birthday were six times more likely to suffer in language skills. Not only that, but a mere 30 mins a day was considered detrimental; with each additional 30 mins increasing the risk of delayed expressive development by 49%.

But we have not had perfect conditions. For the last few months, many of us in the UK and around the world have been inside, unable to get outside and only able to connect with the outside world through our screens. We have been very grateful for the existence of the digital world to keep us all connected.

As lockdown lifts however, we now have the opportunity to counteract some of the excess time staring at screens of the last few months. Here are five suggestions to help rebalance your relationship with tech this summer, post-corona.

1. Get outside

Getting outside and being active is one of the most important ways to recover from a sedentary period on screens and improve digital wellbeing. Spending two or more hours a week in nature is proven to have significant benefits on mental and physical health. Some doctors even now prescribe park visits for obese children and depressed teens. Take a walk or have a picnic without smartphones. Focus on the experience, and the people you’re sharing it with.

2. Eat screen-free

Many parents would attest to the fact that, especially with teenagers, it can be difficult to have a meaningful conversation with your family, even when you live with them! So ban screens from your tables and mealtimes. This will spur on conversation and enable you all to really relax during lunch breaks, especially if you are all still working from home during the pandemic.

3. Organise meet-ups

We have now spent over three months unable to see family and friends due to the lockdown restrictions. Human connection is one of the most important parts of our lives. If you simply try to cut out tech without replacing it with other appealing activities and enjoyable pasttimes you will struggle. Replace your weekly Zoom quiz with a meeting in your local pub. Replace the phone call to that family member that lives just too far away with a weekend stay with them. We have tried hard to nurture relationships in lockdown, don’t let them languish now that we are coming out of it. Replace digital interactions with physical (if socially distanced) ones.

4. Get moving

Whether you spent lockdown on your couch watching Netflix or on your yoga mat watching workout videos, exercise and weight have been major players in the conversation around lockdown. Health and movement should be an everyday part of our life, and participating in it can help us to increase our digital wellbeing. Excess screentime leads to a sedentary lifestyle which is a problem at any age. Go on a run, take up yoga, or do a dance class. It doesn’t matter how you choose to move as long as you do it, and regularly, away from screens.

5. Switch it off

The only way to truly disconnect from your phone is by switching it off. Turn it off before you go to bed (or at the very least put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’). Turn it off before you sit down for a meal. Turn it off before you have a difficult conversation, or an easy one. Replace idle screen scrolling with reading, or chatting with friends and family. Maximising digital wellbeing means using technology only in a way that benefits you. Remember that you can, and should, sometimes turn it off.