It’s fairly common knowledge now that too much screen time is unhealthy for a wide variety of reasons. According to the Nielsen research group, American adults now spend “more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media.” If we assume 6-7 hours of sleep in a 24 hour day, that leaves just 6-7 hours of time daily with no screen interaction. Yikes! This shows how addicted and reliant we have become to our screens, and that can’t possibly be a good thing. For kids, it’s even more important that screen time be limited. But how to go about it without going cold turkey? We’ve created a list of practical, realistic tips on how to lessen screen time for you and your family.
1. Keep track of your screen time.
Smartphones let you check your screen time daily and weekly usage, as well as your number of pickups. Not sure how? Here’s how to do so on Apple devices, as well as on Android, which also has a feature called Digital Wellbeing to help you use your phone in a healthier, more balanced manner. You may be shocked to find, for instance, that you are picking up your phone 58 times a day (the average). Don’t forget to track screen time usage for computers, tablets, game consoles, and televisions—these all count as screens.
2. Set your tech to limit screen time.
If you have a tough time putting down the remote or the device, let your tech set the limits. Use the screen time settings on your phone to limit how much time you can use apps by category, such as social media or games. Ironically, there are many apps designed to help you lessen your phone or tablet screen time. For computers there is actually an app called Cold Turkey that you set up to block games, websites, and apps. If you’ve got a Smart TV, check the manufacturer’s site for ways to manage screen time.
3. Use a timer.
Use your phone to set alarms to remind you to take a break, go outside, or turn off the screen. If you need something loud, cheap, and basic, don’t forget how effective a basic timer can be (especially for kiddos).
4. Minimize notifications.
Does your phone screen constantly light up or vibrate because of notifications? Each notification is like a tap on the shoulder—imagine having 25 shoulder taps in the space of an hour! It is distracting and definitely has a negative impact on your ability to focus as well as your productivity. Bring down the amount of unnecessary notifications using this guide from Wired.
5. Don’t eat and screen.
Eating while looking at your phone or computer, or while watching tv, is a habit you should definitely break. It’s bad for your posture, it doesn’t give your eyes time to rest, and you actually end up eating more. It’s also directly linked to health problems such as diabetes and obesity. If you need a break from your computer, eat lunch in a different space.
6. No screens in the bedroom.
Screen time before bed can have a negative impact on your sleep, especially for kids. Make this a family rule. Keep the chargers elsewhere, such as the kitchen or home office. Get an alarm clock. If you can’t sleep without some music or white noise, use a Bluetooth speaker connected to your phone—you can stream to the speaker even if your phone is in another room.
7. Have “No Screen” zones.
Designate certain rooms or areas as “no screen” zones. Bedrooms, bathrooms, and dining areas are good, reasonable choices.
8. Move your biggest “time suck” apps off the Home screen.
If you move these overused apps off the Home screen to another screen a few swipes away, it can help you feel less temptation to use them. For instance, move all your social media apps into one group, then move that whole group to your 3rd screen.
9. Or take the big plunge and delete social media apps off your phone altogether.
It is tough to not check Facebook or Twitter when you know it’s on your phone! Try removing them from your phone permanently, or at least temporarily. It’s a bit abrupt, but you can always check those apps on your computer; best if you can limit yourself to doing this just once or twice a day, and set a timer when doing so. And if it’s games that wreck your screen time limits, it might just be time to say goodbye to Candy Crush.
10. Don’t take your phone or tablet into the bathroom.
This has a high “eww” factor, don’t you think? Devices are already notoriously germy; bringing them into the bathroom just extends your time in there as well as raises the germ count!
11. Don’t use screens for background noise.
We get it, some people don’t like silence and need background noise. Instead of having the TV on or playing random YouTube videos on your phone or tablet, play music or get a white noise app.
12. Keep work emails off your phone.
Unless your job truly requires you to read emails at 9pm or on the weekends, remove your work account email from your phone. If you really need to be ready for the coming week, check your work emails right after dinner on Sunday, but don’t sit down and start replying to them or you’ll be toast.
13. Limit your non-work screen time.
If your job requires you to look at a screen for most of your workday, give your eyes, head, and back a needed electronic respite and find fun, fulfilling, interesting, and active things to do that require zero screen time (unless you are using your phone’s GPS to get you to a new trail head).
14. Switch your phone to grayscale.
Would you want to watch a black and white TV? Of course not! Which is why changing your phone’s color settings to grayscale could help you stare at it less. According to Vice, people are reporting decreased feelings of addiction to their phones once they switch the screen from color to grayscale. It’s worth a try.
15. Don’t be on two screens at once.
If you habitually watch TV while you’re also on your phone or tablet, you are actually doubling up on screen time. The “second screen” is now being used by almost half of Americans, and shows how addicted we are to our devices. If you are going to watch TV, don’t have your phone or tablet nearby. It’s how we used to watch TV, remember?
Again, this is a tough one. I’ve got teenagers, so I know! But if you are going to lessen screen time for you and your family’s health, everyone will need to take part. Start with three items on this list. If you are able to implement those three in a few weeks, add another three. It’s an investment in time and effort but in the long run, will be a positive impact on your eyes, sleep, posture, eating, and self-esteem.