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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.”

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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.

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