Need a break from social media? Experts say it’s a good time to reevaluate your screen habits

It's a great time to reevaluate your screen time

The coronavirus pandemic has many of us spending more time on all those social media platforms we’re already addicted to.

When the stay-at-home advisory went into effect, many accepted that extended screen time would become a part of our daily lives as a matter of survival. For some, it’s been the only way to connect to the outside world.

At a time when most of us are craving connections, it’s helping create a sense of community -- albeit a virtual one. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the Wall Street Journal that when the pandemic hit, Facebook traffic was “well beyond” what the company normally registers on New Year’s Eve.

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But as we all turn to social media to stay connected, there’s also concern that too much screen time could be bad for our health. Experts say we should use this time to reevaluate our social media use and the habit of constantly checking our phones whenever boredom sets in.

“This is the opportunity for people to ask themselves ‘How am I using my phone?’” said Johan Versteegh, a digital wellness coach in the Netherlands and founder of the company Social Media Breakup. He said his job is not just to help people stay away from their phones but “to transform their device into a device that helps them and enhances their own lives, instead of the device robbing them from their lives.”

Versteegh coaches clients around the world to recognize those feelings and identify when it becomes an addiction. He says a handful of new clients have reached out looking to disconnect since the pandemic hit. "The focus is not just pushing the phone away, but to actually be pulled by a different activity; something strong that will automatically make you use your phone less,” he said.

Medfield HEALTH writer Cassie Shortsleeve put herself through a similar cleanse for a story she wrote for Men’s Health magazine. She said it made her happier, but recommends a slightly different twist on a cleanse during the pandemic. "Look at your account and say ‘How can this better serve me?’ ‘How can I follow accounts that make me feel good about myself?” she said.

Shortsleeve says despite our increased reliance on our screens during this time, she sees a silver lining: “I think I’m in the hopeful camp that this is going to change social media for the better and I think people are realizing that there are more productive ways to use it.”

Now the mother of an 11-month-old daughter named Sunday, this week Shortsleeve is launching Dear Sunday, a website to connect moms during a time when she says mothers need virtual support more than ever before. “As much as online connection is important, it’s never going to replace real-life connections, so everybody’s missing that,” she said.

Overall, Shortsleeve and other experts recommend setting boundaries and values and sticking to them, and applying those same boundaries when it comes to your kids and screen time.

So if your child is using an app that is helping with learning, don’t beat yourself up over that kind of screen time. But it’s also worth having a conversation about how you want your child to grow up with social media and when it comes to kids or adults, be thoughtful and purposeful about it.

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