Screen fatigue and digital addiction: a family experiment

We’re all tired of screens, but we’re all also addicted to them. It’s making us sick. And tired, too. Here’s three tips for beating the digital blues.

‘Screen fatigue’ is a phrase we are hearing a lot these days. Employees are complaining of being exhausted after long online meetings. Some are loving online church, others struggle to stick with it. Meeting virtually keeps us connected, but we miss real people interactions. We enjoy seeing people’s faces, but we’re uncomfortable seeing our own staring back at us.

Some parents are stuck home with the kids isolating and are running out of other things to do. People whose income depends on online interaction find themselves sucked in 24 hours a day and longing for a break. And so the pendulum between screen fatigue and screen addiction swings back and forth until we are dizzy from it all.

The thing is, smart devices are useful. Too useful. They have calendars, internet banking, games, Amazon, Google, Zoom, social media platforms, Bible study apps – everything you need in your hand. For most people, they’re just too useful to set down altogether.

But it’s not just their usefulness that pulls us to constantly check our phones. It’s obligation. Work communications. Relational connections. Every time the phone buzzes, many of us feel like we have to reply right away. (If you don’t think that’s you, try not reaching for your phone when it buzzes. You may feel more uncomfortable than you thought you would!)

We all want to reduce how much tv we watch and the time we spend on social media. Yet as if it wasn’t challenging enough in ‘normal life’ to cut back on screen time, our ability to regulate our screen usage in the ‘new normal’ has become even further out of reach when we are required to work remotely, socialise online, and interact on school apps and Facebook pages.

Chatting to people, I’ve found that over lockdown they’ve often gone one way or the other; they’ve either put the phones away altogether because they found online stuff too draining- or else they’ve become more and more drawn in to the online world.

But what about the side effects of screen time?

I’ll be really honest here… the following is not an unfamiliar scenario in my house:

The stillness of the morning is broken by the shrill whine of child number 1 or 2, ‘I wanna watch something.’

The neighbours are then treated to a cacophonous crescendo of disagreement about what to watch:

‘Dora’

‘Elsa and Anna’

‘DORA!’

‘Elsa and Annnnnaaa’

DORRAAAA!!

[Resounding wails.]

Mum groans while dad runs to intervene. Or vice versa.

Great start to the day, huh? Please tell me I’m not the only one??

I wonder, if we really considered the potential costs of too much screen usage for all of us, would this cause us to take more drastic action? Here’s what I notice in myself when I’m on my phone too much:

🤔 Lack of interest or concentration for other activities.

😴 Poor sleep quality

😬 Increased irritability

🤯 Increased anxiety levels

I’ll admit that I haven’t always been convinced screens make a huge difference to these things. But a while back I decided enough was enough when I started to look forward a little TOO much to those moments when some digital character was entertaining my kids, so I could sit in a quiet room with a coffee and a chocolate bar.

So we turned it all OFF. For a week. And let me tell you how enlightening this simple experiment was for us.

Day one. I braced myself for strong feelings and bad moods. In the morning, I explained that for all of us to have a wee break from screens, we wouldn’t be watching tv for a week. There was very little reaction. I planned a busy day; going to the park in the morning, meeting a friend in the afternoon.

Day two. I notice that our pace in the house had slowed down. I was actually getting chores done with the kids in tow. They were ‘helping’ unload the dishwasher and brushing the floor along with me.

Day three. My kids were covering boxes with their creative art, making all kinds of creations out of play dough. They were fighting 10x less a day, and were much more contented and well-mannered.

And I felt more relaxed too. I was letting my phone battery run out and stay off. I wasn’t repeatedly checking facebook or looking for the next of those addictive little red dots. I felt much more present, and I felt like they were too. It actually made me consider whether to ever go back to where we were.

But now, after six months in lockdown, some days we are there again. Agitated, distracted and not sleeping as well.

So here’s my plan for the month of October, along with some ideas that might be useful for you:

Reduce

Limiting the amount of time you spend on devices in lots of little ways can add up to a lot of time!

📞 Take the Facebook app off your phone

⏰ Limit checking social media to x3 a day (after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner)

✅ Cut off the WiFi at 11 p.m. every night (for those of you with older kids, you can an download an app that allows you to shut off your kids’ phones remotely.)

🛌 Don’t use phone an hour before bed

🥰 Give yourself a reward for each of these goals you achieve!

Replace

Replace screen time with something good for your body, mind and soul!

📖 Read a chapter of a novel each night before bed

📅 Set a reminder for your daily devotions

🖊 Do a ‘brain dump’; write down your prayers, thoughts, feelings and worries at some point in the day.

🦆 Do something fun in nature; feed the ducks, splash in puddles, collect conkers or go for an evening power walk.

💄 Slot in a little pamper activity each day; even if it’s a five minute face mask, nail file and paint, craft activity or game of football – whatever helps you relax!

Refresh

Here’s the final, more radical step, that we need to be more disciplined about, but which is totally key to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

For one day a week – for 12 hours at least, try to unplug everything electronic.

📺’Screen free Sundays’ are a habit some families are getting into.

🎨 Paint, do puzzles, play board games, play music, or bake together. Quality, focused time with family is a beautiful thing.

So how can we begin to beat the screen fatigue and addiction pendulum swing?

👍 Reduce the time spent on screen using a combination of habits.

👍 Replace what you do on your device with other fun things.

👍 Refresh from the digital by withdrawing from it for a day a week.

Next time you see or talk to me, please ask me how I’m doing with this! And If you’ve got some good tips on how you do screens in your house, I’d love to hear from you!

H x

Published by Hilary

Mum of two girls 👩‍👧‍👧 positive inspiration 💡 parenting 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 health 🏃‍♀️ life 💓 faith 📖

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