By John Lough
American Counseling Association
The COVID-19 crisis and restricted social contact has many of us spending more time in front of electronic screens. It might be the family TV, our business laptop or streaming on our smartphone. For our kids, it’s often some gaming device or social media via their phones. Whatever, the result is that our screen time is increasing significantly.
While business demands for adults and online classes for kids are clear reasons why today’s world requires us to spend more time with our electronic devices, many of us are also spending a great many more voluntary hours online just to fill in time. This is often not a good thing.
Too much screen time isn’t going to make you go blind, though it can lead to eye fatigue and headaches. But those excessive hours online can have a negative effect on family life.
If every family member constantly has their faces buried in their favorite electronic time killers, there is usually less time for family sharing and interaction. You may notice your kids aren’t sleeping as usual, they seem to get little or no exercise and have trouble showing up at set mealtimes. Look a little closer and you may find that your own screen time is also encroaching on what should be other, normal activities for you.
So, how to fix the problem? A starting point is simply to develop a schedule. Video game time for the kids isn’t whenever they can’t think of anything else to do, but maybe a two-hour block after they’ve done their chores or schoolwork, and another block while dinner is being prepared. If there’s online class assignments to be tackled, make that clearly separated on the schedule from play time.
Adults’ screen time can also be scheduled. Time spent watching TikTok videos or constantly streaming old TV shows can usually be used in more productive and fulfilling ways. Yes, physical exercise and outdoor time should be on the schedule, but art projects, reading, gardening or starting a new hobby can also deserve time blocks.
Having to turn off that electronic plaything with nothing else to do is going to frustrate both kids and adults. But using that time instead for something interesting, maybe even educational or fun, makes the day more fulfilling and can help make time back online more enjoyable and entertaining, which is what it should be.
“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Send your comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.