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Screens and lockdown

The comments under the recent post about how to deal with screen addiction/over-use raised an interesting point which has come up in conversation a few times, captured in this remark: “I suspect with lockdown ‘addiction’ to screens is going to become an even bigger issue.”

(FYI: book giveaway ending Tues May 5th)

We can all guess why lockdown makes it likely that people of all ages will use their screens even more than before:

  • Screens provide the easiest way to communicate with people outside our homes. Communication is really important – when we can’t see our friends face-to-face, we have to do it another way. It’s important for mental health as well as the practicalities of needing to ask people things.
  • Our screens provide fantastic ways of keeping on top of news and facts – and being informed is important.
  • Most of us are pretty anxious or stressed about aspects of the COVID19 situation, and anxiety makes us less able to resist temptations; so, if we are drawn towards the dopamine rush of picking up our screen device, we are more likely to go with that than if we weren’t stressed.
  • We are in a state of waiting for news all the time – and that news will most likely come from our screens.
  • Our screens also bring us benefits of distraction and self-soothing so they are particularly useful now.

But what you all want to know is:

  1. Should you worry about this extra over-use of and dependence on screens?
  2. If so, how to deal with it?

Should you worry?

I think not, to be honest. This is a very difficult but temporary phase, created by things outside our control. I think we can have our comfort blankets if we want them and that now is not the time to be taking them away. Think about that a it literally: if you were trying to wean a comfort blanket or toy off a child, would you do that at a time when the child was ill or upset about something else? No, you wouldn’t. Let children – and yourselves not have the extra burden of guilt about this.

However, there are some healthy actions I do think we should all take and they will help avoid the extreme levels of dependence that you’re worried about. So, in a way this answers my second question if the answer to the first had been “yes.”

How to help create healthy behaviours

  1. Don’t make them feel guilty or bad – screens are not bad and they bring a whole load of benefits that are very important. Show that you understand that.
  2. Build screen-free time into the day, not by saying “screens are bad – you need to get off them for a while” but reminding your teenagers that there are some other great activities, too, such as reading or exercise.
  3. Get them to set their own target for screen-free time and reward each time it’s achieved. Don’t make it too difficult.
  4. Set a good example: show that you find it hard, too, but that you think it’s important so you’re going to put your phone away for a while (but you’re doing it when you choose so they must be able to do it when they choose.
  5. Negotiate family screen-free times when you do something else, but, again, don’t make this like a punishment. It must be a pleasure and it must be discussed – you’ll get so much more success if you discuss!
  6. There’s a very firm rule which should apply at all times, for every member of the family, and that is:

No phone (etc) visible or audible in any of these three situations: mealtimes, before bed and when anyone wants to speak to us

If you start with that and be patient, considerate, honest, supportive and democratic about it – and lenient during this time of unusual stress and unusual need for screens – you’ll have a lot more success and fewer arguments and build a greater foundation of ultimate self-control. You don’t want them just to follow rules because the rules are there: you want them to learn to create for themselves a healthy relationship with reward, comfort and control.

Focus more on the positives of on-screen and off-screen and less on the negatives. Use carrots, not sticks.

Worry less and live more. All will be well.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.

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