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Take charge of your digital habits and screen time

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South Africa

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Take charge of your digital habits and screen time and the added pressure of being available 24/7 can make you feel trapped and unsure of where to start.

  • Do you reach for your phone without thinking about it?
  • Do you interrupt a conversation to click on Instagram or WhatsApp the moment you see a notification come through?
  • Do you get anxious when your phone’s battery is flat, and you can’t access your social networks?
  • Are you worried about your own screen time management and your child’s online safety?

If you have answered yes, then you are not alone. There are steps to take in order to reach a new level of digital control.

Our digital lives have become so integrated and part of our physical lives that it is challenging (nearly impossible) to operate without the internet.

Managing online behaviour is key

The question is not how to manage screen time, but rather how do we manage the things we do during our screen time.

Ask yourself:

  • Which apps am I using and why do I need them?
  • How many WhatsApp groups do I belong to, and should I still be part of all of them? Are they uplifting and good for me or are the messages being shared negatively impacting my mood and behaviour? (It’s ok to leave the group).
  • How much time is allocated to:
    • Staying up to date with the news, weather forecasts and stock markets.
    • Education via online research, homework portals, study groups, online universities and webinars.
    • Entertainment through Netflix, Showmax, YouTube, TikTok and other streaming channels.
    • Connecting with friends and family through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord, Twitter, SnapChat etc.
    • Networking and profile building through LinkedIn.
    • Online shopping and banking – from flights, movie tickets, groceries and gadgets.
    • Exercising with the help of a virtual instructor through an app and tracking our fitness levels.
    • Video production  filming, editing and broadcasting.
    • Cooking and watching your favourite chef prepare a meal while you try it in your own kitchen
    • Gaming – whether alone or online with other friends.
    • Reading and listening to podcasts.
    • Listening to music .
    • …and the list goes on…

This indicates that we are not necessarily wasting time on screens or not using our online time effectively. However, it shows that we are now depending on screens to do the things we did in the past in different ways.

For instance, gamers prefer to connect online instead of having a ‘traditional’ get-together. Friends are chatting through FaceTime and are happy to connect in a virtual world, instead of going out together.

Why should we manage our screen time and take breaks?

If we don’t become intentionally aware of the time we’re connected to screens and disconnected from the people, nature and pets around us, then we will see and feel the impact on our relationships.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is a big deal, but like with any other type of fear, we must take charge and think of the long-term consequences of being managed by this fear.

Children grow up and leave the house; parents grow older; no one is guaranteed the chance of spending time with a loved one tomorrow. So we have TODAY and THIS MOMENT to choose between online friends and true friends, scrolling through your never-ending social media feed or enjoying face-to-face quality time with the people with you.  I also encourage parents to be the parents and lead their families in the right way.

How do we do this without losing track of our online statuses and updates?

Here are some suggestions and I dare you to see what works best for you and your family:

  • Digital boundaries:
    1. As a family, discuss what you think is an acceptable daily timeframe to be online for. Yes, this will be difficult and other people might get upset, however they will start to respect your boundaries and, who knows, perhaps they will be inspired to do the same.
    2. Agree on the types of apps that you, as a family, are open to using. Discuss the community rules and how these apps should be used responsibly.
    3. Understand the risks presented by those so-called online ‘friends’ and be clear on your own boundaries (from an emotional, relational and physical point of view).
    4. Agree on the type of information you shouldn’t share online, considering your privacy and safety.
  • Digital detox: (Don’t worry, this is easier than you think…)
    1. Digital-free dinners! Once a day, while you enjoy dinner together, leave the devices out of the conversation and switch off your notifications so that their promptings don’t steal your attention. Make eye contact, ask each other some questions and taste the dinner someone prepared for the family. Use this valuable opportunity to really connect, build your relationships and notice any excitement, sadness, stress, anxiety, encouragement, anger, joy and surprising happenings.
    2. On a weekly basis, you could disconnect for a couple of hours to experience your surroundings. Have ‘me-time’, do something outdoors or visit someone special.
    3. You could even consider a social media detox when you enter a busier phase, like exam times, to ensure that your focus is where it matters most.
  • Parental control apps: One way for us to manage the above and to assist us to form better digital habits, is with the help of apps that give access to a certain amount of screen time, other apps and permissions. There are two ways to perceive parental control apps:
    1. Putting a lock on your digital door and restricting you from connecting with friends and sources of entertainment, OR
    2. Using an unemotional and objective app to manage the family rules, in order to protect the peace and happy atmosphere in the home.

I recommend the second option because, by using a parental control app, you stick to the rules, cannot use screen time as a way to punish your child and no one can argue with the settings that everyone had agreed on.

How to choose the best app for your family

Some apps are free with the option to pay for more features. Search your app store to explore the long list of available “parental control app” options, like Google Family Link and Kaspersky Safe Kids. Use the following to determine the best option for you:

  • The number of devices you need to secure.
  • The age of your child/children that you would like to protect.
  • The ability to lock or unlock your child’s phone.
  • Do you need a location tracker?
  • The ability to block certain websites and search terms.
  • Give or deny access to apps before it can be installed and more…

Once we realise that we are in control of our online behaviour,  we will also understand the importance of taking charge of the amount of time we spend online. It’s not about balance, but rather about priorities and who and what is important to you. Who values you and your attention the most?

Let me remind you; your value is not determined by what is being said on social media, or by the number of followers you have, or the number of likes your posts get, because you were marvellously and wonderfully made.

By Rianette Leibowitz, Cyber Wellness and Safety author and speaker, Brand South Africa Play Your Part Ambassador and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety

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