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Screen Time: A Guide to Striking a Healthy Balance

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Thanks to increasing concerns about the mental health ramifications of heavy mobile phone usage, social media addiction, and even mobile phone addiction, Apple has made it easier for users to monitor their usage with the Screen Time feature. Apple’s Screen Time for ipad and iphone promises users insights into how much time they spend on their phone and which pursuits they are dedicating their time to. We take a look at the implications of screen time for kids and adults, and guide you through fostering a healthy relationship with your mobile phone whilst showing you how to use the Screen Time feature.


The term ‘screen time’ refers to the amount of time spent on all devices including mobiles, TV, tablets and computers in general. Screen Time is the name given to the Mac iOS development in inbuilt screen time tracking.

Screen Time For Kids and Teens

It’s our natural instinct to try and protect children as best we can, Threats to their safety safety and wellbeing from the internet are no exception. But in the digital era it’s fairly difficult to cut children off from mobiles and screens entirely, especially when they want to keep up with their peers. Research is currently being conducted into screen time and its effect on child development, and although we have more to learn on the subject there have been some interesting findings so far.

It’s no secret that, despite fostering connections with others online, social media can have a detrimental effect on young people and adults alike. According to the results of a study published by the Royal Society for Public Health, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years. The study suggests a link between that increased rate and depression, anxiety and poor sleep caused by social media use.

A Royal Society for Public Health report on social media use stated that 7 out of 10 young people have experienced cyberbullying - a relatively recent phenomenon following children out of the school yard and all the way home. Online hate is present on comment feeds, forums and social media alike, and it seems that people are willing to say more despicable things online than they ever would in person. At the more extreme end of things, horrifying stories of predators getting access to children online have made their way into the media, adding urgency to the need for safety measures.

So how much time should children spend on screens?

Screen time minutes for kids

Multiple studies have been conducted on the subject and guidelines often depend on age. Recent guidelines published by The World Health Organisation, for example, stated that children between the ages of one and four should spend no more than 60 minutes a day on screens, while children under 12 months should have no screen time at all.

A study published in the peer reviewed journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health found that children between the ages of 8 and 11 years old, who spend less than 2 hours on screens performed better in terms of general mental function and sleep quality. The study required the restriction of all screens including smartphones, TV, tablets and video games to less than 2 hours per day.

Teenagers are perhaps one of the most difficult age groups to pry away from their screens given that technology and teenage social life are intertwined. In a study conducted by Uni Research Network in Norway involving 10,000 older teens, it was reported that those who used screens within one hour of going to bed took longer to fall asleep. Participants who engaged in screen time before sleep were also more likely to feel that they needed at least another two hours of sleep than they actually got. These results were also true for those who spent at least two hours of their leisure time a day on screes. In short, more screen time equals less sleep overall.

Setting Parental Controls

There are measures you can take to prevent your children from coming into harm's way online or spending too much time on their phone screen. The Screen Time feature on Apple products lets parents examine their child’s internet use in order to see how long they’re spending on screens and what they are spending their time on. Screen time also allows parents to set limits on certain apps or to prevent device access all together.

Apple’s screen time can inform certain parental control measures and aid in decision making. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to parental controls, for the most part, this can be broken down into three main categories:

  1. Content filters which limit access to age inappropriate content.
  2. Blocks on specific apps or websites.
  3. Limits or timers on usage to limit screen time.

Using Apple screen time is not the only option available to parents who want to set parental controls on their child’s phone or app usage. One option is to download a parental control app for mobile, like Web Watcher or Qustodio for example.

Some UK mobile phone providers cater to parents, with O2 allowing for parental controls to be set from its app or Tesco offering Monqui smartphones that house a paired app through which parents can control usage and block adult content.

O2 have also partnered with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Their joint initiative offers a wealth of resources and invaluable information to parents and caregivers for keeping children safe online.

Is your mobile phone distracting you from quality time with your child?You may be spending time with your child, but are you giving them your undivided attention? We pick up more cues about the world in our developmental years than at any other time in our lives, and your child may be affected by competing with your phone for your attention. Make sure to spend time making eye contact with your child, or engage in an activity together - like playing with toys.

Screen Time For Adults

Adult mobile user screen time

With parental controls and the setting of technological boundaries for kids on the rise, achieving a healthy balance for children and teens may be possible, but what is there to save us adults from being constantly glued to our phones? With Nielson’s report stating that adults spend an average of 49 days every year on our phones, it’s safe to say that mobile use takes up a substantial amount of our time.

Not only that, the trappings of social media extend beyond just children and teens. The pressure to have the perfect job, car, body or social life is compounded by social media, falling on adults who hold more responsibilities over their own lives and incomes than the younger portion of the population. FOMO, which stands for fear of missing out, has become an all too common phenomenon in recent years and seems to be ignited by social media use.

A study carried out at the University of Pennsylvania found that limiting social media can have a positive impact on mental health. The study asked 140 participants to either continue their regular use of platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat or to limit each one to 10 minutes per day (30 minutes total). Those who limited their social media use to 30 minutes per day over a three week period felt significantly better mentally, reporting reduced depression and loneliness, especially those who already had higher levels of depression when the started the study.

With human beings hardwired as social creatures who need to communicate, mobile phone use can certainly be a good thing. But how do we strike a healthy balance when it comes to our pocket technology? The best thing to do is to try and instill healthy habits so that we can minimise the drawbacks to mobile use, whilst still enjoying the upsides.

Healthy mobile use tips and tricks:

Heavy mobile phone use can be harmful for adults and children alike, but there are some measures that we can take to foster a healthy balance between our phones and the ‘real world’. Strike a balance with Selectra’s healthy tips for using your phone:

1. Turn off your notifications

Cut down on the constant bombardment of reminders that encourage you to check your phone by switching off notifications. When a notification pops up, we're more likely to pick up our phones and get lost in whatever app we’ve entered into. So switch off all notifications for some peace and quiet. If you just want to minimise some of the constant technological buzz around you, just switch off notifications for the apps that tend to distract you the most.

2. Do not disturb

If you prefer receiving your notifications but you’d like to be temporarily distraction free, you can switch your phone to airplane mode. Some phones have a ‘do not disturb’ setting which you can set for a given period of time, like during meetings or quality time with the family over dinner.

3. Allocate scrolling time

If you find yourself getting lost scrolling through social media, Pinterest or even the news, setting aside limited amounts of scrolling time may help. Giving yourself 20 mins in the morning or evening to scroll to you hearts content. If that sounds impossible to you, set yourself 3 minutes every hour to quickly update yourself on whatever is going on in your app of choice.

4.Tidy up your social media

Following accounts on social media that make us feel bad about ourselves is all too common. Unfollow any accounts that make you envious, unhappy or aggravated and try to follow accounts that are informative or have a positive influence on your wellbeing. If you find yourself drifting onto social media on autopilot, it’s best to move your social apps into a separate folder in your phone or onto the second page of your homescreen - that way you’ll be forced to take a beat before you dive into an app.

5. Curate your distractions

Has picking up your phone at random intervals now become second nature to you? If time on your mobile feels unavoidable, why not opt for the mobile equivalent of trading sugar for stevia. Healthier distractions may look different for everyone, and might include things like trading endless social media scrolling for catching up on current affairs via a news app. Or rather than watching endless empty ‘infotainment’ clips try and opt for something with a little more substance, like a TEDtalk or lecture on a topic that interests you.

6. Circadian rhythms

It’s alarming how many people choose extra time on their phone over precious hours of sleep. The blue light exposure emitted by screens can interfere with your natural circadian rhythms (the mechanisms which control your sleep-wake cycle) and could be preventing you from drifting off to sleep with ease. Set a time where you’ll stop looking at screens, say 9.30pm (at least an hour before bedtime), and switch to a book or lay out your outfit for the next day.

7. Sleep hygiene

If late night screen time is a weakness of yours another solution could be to set sleep hygiene boundaries. Clean sleep hygiene means clearing your bed entirely of all digital devices - that’s no tablets, phones or laptops in your bed at anytime, people! Why not give it a try and see if you fall asleep faster without anything to distract you?

8. Ditch the autoplay

Have you ever been watching something on YouTube or Netflix only to find that one video/episode turns into another, and then another one, and so on? You don’t have to be a slave to autoplay, you can actually switch autoplay off on both Netflix and Youtube. For Netflix head to your Account and then select Playback settings and uncheck the box marked “play next episode automatically”. On Youtube autoplay can also be switched off by tapping on your profile photo choosing settings, and then tap on the word Autoplay and toggle off.

9. Be mindful

Mindful meditation is all the rage right now and the concept of taking actions with conscious intent can be applied to almost anything. Even 10 minutes a day of mindful meditation launches you into the present moment and makes us less susceptible to operating on autopilot. So it can help people to ride the wave of ‘tech-cravings’ without giving into temptation. If you spend less time on your phone then you’ll have more time to meditate - the positive cycle continues!

10. Build community ties

One of the most positive aspects of spending time on our screens are the online communities that we form. People with interests or experiences or beliefs in common can now connect online, whereas in the past they may have otherwise been isolated or limited to their immediate circle of friends and family. This is a huge upside to spending time on our screens, but why not try and find community members locally too? By turning online connections into real life interactions we can spend less time behind our screens and more time in the real world.

11. Get back to basics

With NHS health guidelines warning against the health risks of our sedentary lifestyles it's more important than ever to try and shift towards ‘active downtime’. For most office workers, extended periods of time glued to screens is pretty inevitable and mostly outside of our control, but we can choose what to do during our downtime. Getting active has numerable health benefits, so why not trade your evening social media scroll for an evening stroll in the park. If you’re not in the mood to get moving, go old school and pick up a book or chat to a loved one face to face.

What is a digital detox?The term digital detox refers to taking a break from technology - much the same as someone may detox from potentially addictive substances like alcohol or sugar. By refraining from the use of mobiles and screens in general, individuals can take the time to reconnect with others, to reduce their stress levels or ground themselves more fully in their surroundings.

How to Use Screen Time

Apple Screen Time was introduced as part of the iOS 12 update and monitors the use of all apps on a given device in order to collect data on each users’ screen time. Screen Time can be accessed via the iPhone or iPad settings app and will show a division of screen time by topic in a handy chart.

How does Screen Time work? The data is drawn from statistics that are collected from all iOS devices running iOS 12 that are logged into your iCloud account. Screen Time will aggregate data from any iPhones or iPads used, and will display your results in a handy chart, dividing your screen into categories like:

  • Games
  • Social Media
  • Productivity
  • News
  • Creativity
  • Messages

If you tap on the chart you will also be able to see information from the last 24 hours or 7 days, including the number of times you picked up your device during the day, the number of notifications you receive, which apps are sending you the most notifications and your longest usage setting.

From the Screen Time section of your phone you can also make the most of some wonderful healthy mobile settings like setting scheduled down time periods for you or your children, setting time limits on specific apps like social media platforms and access content and privacy settings. If those features don’t excite you enough you can also set some crucial apps to always allowed, meaning that you will still receive notifications from them at all times.

How to access Apple Screen Time

You’ll find screen time in your iOS device by following the handy steps below:

  1. Open up the settings app (the app icon is a picture of silver gears).
  2. Scroll down to the Screen Time section. You’ll find it grouped amongst categories like Notifications and Do Not Disturb.
  3. Tap on Screen Time.
  4. Your results will show divided into the areas where you spend most of your screen time.

Android phones: Do they have Screen Time?

Apple may have brought Screen Time monitoring systems into the public consciousness but Android users can also keep on top of how much time they are spending on their phones overall (although it doesn’t have a handy inbuilt breakdown of usage into topics like iphones do).

Android users seeking a more comprehensive look at their screen time can download Google’s Digital Wellbeing App. The App gives you a daily view of your digital habits including how frequently you check your phone, how often you use each app and how many notifications you receive. If you find your phone use is interfering with other aspects of your life you can use Google Wellbeing to set timers for app usage, a grayscale timer to reduce the light emitted from your phone at night time and set your phone to do not disturb at night (preventing pesky notifications from waking you.

Most Android phones will log your screen time in the power usage section. To access this information you’ll need to take the following steps:

  1. Go to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Battery’.
  2. Select the three dot menu then go to Battery usage.
  3. Select the three dot menu again, and choose Show full device usage.
  4. You’ll then see an overall graph or figure that represents exactly how long your screen has been active.

For Android users who really struggle to get off their phones and want to make a change there is an app developed just for Android that can help you do just that. ‘Off the Grid’ let’s you assign selected periods of time in which you will sign off from distractions. If you decide to break the rules the app will charge you $1 to use your phone again.

Useful AppsThere are several third party apps that you can download which can help you to monitor your screen time - as well as apps aimed rest and relaxation. Head to the App Store or Google Play for apps like ‘Usage Time’ (for a full breakdown of your usage) ‘Calm’ (for rest and relaxation) or ‘Space’ (to set goals to limit screen time).

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