Over the past two years, Americans have leaned on screens more than ever before. While navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve relied on our phones, iPads, TVs and computers for entertainment, news and connection. In October of 2020, researchers from UCLA noted a 60 percent jump in the amount of time adults spent on their devices, and a recent JAMA study reported that recreational screen time for kids nearly doubled. With that sharp incline in screen usage come increases in weight gain, depression, social anxiety, back and neck pain, headaches and eye strain. So this new year calls for a reset to our screen time habits:
• Beware of mindless usage: Log the time you spend engaged with TV, video games and computers outside of school or work. Next, figure out how much you devote to exercise, active chores, outdoor play and tech-free hobbies. How do the two compare? If a balance adjustment is needed, set specific goals to increase physical activity and decrease screen time in the coming weeks.
• Remove temptation: Smartphones track your weekly screen time, app usage, even how many times you pick up your phone. Use those same screen-time functions to set daily time limits for unessential apps and impose a downtime curfew. You can also curb the cell phone’s addictive appeal by changing your screen to black and white, deleting unnecessary apps and turning off notifications.
• Establish screen-free zones: Designate certain rooms in the house as refuges from screens. Good choices include the bedroom, since backlit screens can hurt sleep quality; the dining room, to encourage more mealtime conversations; and the bathroom, because of the increased chance for mobile devices pick up infectious microbes from the toilet (eww). Strategically set up drop stations near these room entrances to encourage folks to put down their phones.
• Get busy: Screen time is often used to combat boredom, so purposefully schedule your time off with more productive activities. Explore a new hobby, read a book, take a walk, volunteer or register for a class or sport.