Wellness Corner - Are you addicted to your screen? | Aga Khan Academies

Wellness Corner - Are you addicted to your screen?

25 September 2020

Personal Counselor at the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad Dr Isabelle Didsbury provides you and your children with tools to better manage your digital lives.

For the last 10 years, or arguably more, parents, caregivers and teachers have expressed growing concern and confusion regarding screen time. The biggest question on everyone’s lips: how much time is too much when it comes to technology consumption? COVID-19 has plunged us deeper into the digital world, compelling us to rely on technology for ever more of our daily functions – be it education or social connection. It is more important than ever that we reflect on our use of technology and decipher: is it serving us or are we serving it? In other words, is technology helping or hindering our well-being? In this month’s wellness feature, I’ll attempt to answer these questions and provide you, parents and students, with tools to help you better manage your digital lives. 

Social Media – Friend or Foe?

For age-specific guidance regarding the maximum number of hours and minutes, you and your child should spend on screens each day, see recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) here. Sadly, research shows us that screen time is more complex than these figures suggest. When it comes to social media, for example, it’s not about how much time you spend online, but rather how you spend that time. Active use where we comment on or produce is significantly more beneficial in terms of well-being compared to passive use, which is characterised by scrolling through content without reacting. When reflecting on your own screen time and talking to your children about theirs, consider your mode of engagement – is it generally active or passive? How does your behaviour affect how you feel?

Not All Media Is Created Equal

As well as reflecting on how you use technology, it’s worth remembering that not all platforms are created equal. In a study conducted by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, young people reported that Instagram and Snapchat had a negative impact on their sleep, among other things. These same platforms, however, proved positive in terms of providing emotional support and avenues for self-expression. In other words, no social media platform is inherently bad or good, though certain platforms may or may not support what you’re looking to cultivate in your life (e.g. better body image or access to advice).

A Mindful Life

Through our Leadership, Ethics & Awareness Programme (LEAP) at the Academy we expose students to this kind of evidence-based research and encourage the development of these more nuanced perspectives. For us, screen time is no different from eating and exercising, what’s important is being mindful. Being able to recognise the impact that our behaviour has on our thoughts and feelings is an important step in leading a healthy, balanced life. For those struggling to maintain that balance...

1. Create Screen-Free Times (& Zones)

Give yourself a digital-detox and establish screen-free times of the day (and areas of your home). Common Sense Media recommends ‘Device Free Dinner’ where you and your family ‘disconnect to reconnect’.

2. Prioritise Your Sleep

The AAP advises that all screens be turned off no less than half an hour before you go to bed. Ideally, make your bedroom a screen-free zone. About a year ago, my husband and I bought an alarm clock for this exact purpose – when we slip up I notice the effects, not only on the quality of my sleep but also the quality of my work and relationships. Exposure to the blue light on your smartphone disrupts melatonin, which regulates your circadian rhythm, thereby moderating your sleep cycle. Among other things, a bad night’s sleep impairs your memory, making it harder to learn.

3. Use Digital Well-being Tools

Certain technology is designed to be addictive, while other technology prioritises your well-being; use the latter tools to your advantage. My favourites:

-           For meditation: Headspace

-           For anxiety: MindShift

-           For relaxation: Calm

-           For tracking screen time: Moment

-           For tracking habits: Streaks

4. Parents: Model the Behaviour You Want to See

It’s no good asking your child to stop gaming when you yourself are glued to your device. Children develop healthy screen habits when they see you using technology in healthy ways. See this article for role-modelling tips and for a sobering read on the dangers of chronic parental distraction check out early childhood educator Erika Christakis' feature in The Atlantic.

Need more guidance? Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive & Survive in Their Digital World shares her invaluable insights here. As always, please feel free to reach out to me, Dr Isabelle, via isabelle.didsbury@agakhanacademies.org