Screen time during COVID-19: Getting the balance right

Last reviewed on 18 March 2021

How much time are you spending on your screens during the COVID-19 lockdown? Between virtual lessons, social media, video chats, messaging and gaming, you’re probably online a lot!

In many ways, technology has been a lifeline during the pandemic – it’s where you’ve been doing much of your schooling, hanging out with friends and having fun. But it’s important to get the right balance between your digital spaces and other things in your life, even when you’re at home more than usual.

When you were younger, your parents probably had lots of rules about screen time and the kinds of things you were allowed to do online. Now it’s up to you. Here are Good Thinking’s tips to help you stay in control of your digital devices and boost your mental wellbeing.

Try switching between passive activities (e.g. watching something on Netflix or YouTube) and interactive activities (e.g. creating content and playing games with friends). It’s also a good idea to mix up texting with voice calls and video chat so that you interact in a variety of ways. And, if you have a choice of devices, could you do things that need a larger screen or keyboard on your computer rather than on your phone or tablet?

Why not put some rules in place for yourself, such as ‘Don’t check messages or social media after 11pm’ or ‘Spend no more than two hours gaming each day’? This will take a bit of dedication to start with but it will soon become habit and give you more time to do other things.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices give off blue light that interferes with your body’s natural sleep cycle. Try to switch your devices off at least an hour before you go to bed and, ideally, leave them out of your bedroom.

Saying to yourself that you’ll top up your phone ‘No more than once a week’ or ‘Spend a maximum of £X on in-app purchases each month’ will help you to stay in control of your finances and reduce any worries about getting into debt.

You might like to get the rest of your family involved so that screen time becomes a more sociable activity rather than something you do alone in your room. Could you play FIFA 21 with one of your parents or teach them how to do a TikTok challenge? Or how about organising a movie night for the whole family?

Staring at your devices for hours on end could affect your eyesight. A useful piece of advice is the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a break from your screen and look at something that’s about 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or balcony at home, could you pop outside for five minutes throughout the day? If you have more time, why not head to your local park, basketball court or outdoor gym (if they’re open)? You’re allowed to exercise outdoors in your local area with one person from another household.

When you’re doing schoolwork, it might be useful to set the ‘Do not disturb’ function on your phone and turn off any news and social media notifications. You could also set your alarm to remind you to take regular breaks from your screen and challenge yourself to reduce your daily/weekly screen time (this is tracked in most phones’ Settings).

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