By Skipping Stones Staff
In our society, we are constantly glued to our screens—phones, computers, and tablets (in addition to television). Thanks to online and remote classes, pandemic lockdowns, and restrictions against in-person social gatherings, our screentime has greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is much research that shows how this negatively impacts peoples’ mental health, physical wellbeing, and brain development—especially for teenagers. In this era of reduced in-person contact, where our daily lives often revolve around a screen, it can be hard to stay sane and safe. But it is very much possible with some effort and support.
Screentime. One effective way to do this is to set screen limits on the amount of time we spend on our phones, computers, and social media. Some days it may be hard to do, especially if we need to finish schoolwork or have a looming deadline. However, just the act of setting limits can help us reduce our screen time, even if we are not always able to fall within those limits. The result of setting limits is often a self-imposed pressure to finish a project faster or work more efficiently, and thus help make us more productive. There are settings on your phone and apps you use to help set screen limits and keep yourself accountable. If you do this, you may find that you get work done more quickly and have more time to engage with friends, family, and the real world.
Bedtime is Not Screentime. Another way to protect against too much social media or screentime is to end each day away from your phone or computer before you go to sleep. It may be difficult at first but you will feel so much more meaning in your life if you set time to engage with the real world. For example, instead of scrolling through Tik Tok or Instagram right before you go to bed, consider reading a book, playing with your pet if you have one, drawing, or even journaling about the highlights of your day. Not only will this help you sleep better and relax your brain, but you will likely find yourself being more fulfilled because you are able to engage with the real world in some way.
TV and News. We are constantly checking for the latest news and events around the world. Since the news has been so gloomy, especially the last few years, it can be easy to let this get us down and affect our moods. However, it is important to remember that news organizations try to frame news events in ways that get their outlet the most attention, so we should always be critical of how we understand issues. See if there are exaggerations or hyperbole in what you are watching or reading. Also, if you find yourself feeling extra gloomy or consistently depressed because of the news, take a break from it. After all, you won’t be able to solve the issues in society or the world if you are not doing well yourself.
Friends and Likes on Social Media. Another reason that the Internet, particularly social media, can be a toxic place is that young people often put too much stock in how much engagement they get on their social media posts. Many base their self worth on whether they get lots of “likes” or comments on social media posts. However, it is important to not get too caught up in this, as the number of “likes” or comments you get does not reflect reality. There are a number of factors that affect who your posts will even reach, so some of your best friends might not always even see your posts. Therefore, it is not beneficial, healthy, or accurate to think people care less about you just because you don’t get as much engagement on your social media posts. Conversely, if you get a lot of attention on social media, it is important to avoid getting caught up in the hype, because it still is not real life. Just because you are popular on social media does not give you the right to be arrogant, rude, or condescending in real life. Many young people also get jealous of others based on what they see on social media. If you see someone from school posting pictures from tropical vacation trips, for example, that doesn’t mean their life is always fun and happy. They likely have their fair share of hardships, but we generally only see the fun, happy moments from people’s lives posted on social media.
Online Scams. Online scams are nothing new, but scammers are now targeting young people with sly techniques. One of these newer scams targets teenagers. Scammers might impersonate social media personality accounts, hold fake contests, or ask you to be a brand ambassador for them. They may then tell you that you won the contest, and ask for your bank account information, or for you to pay them. The best way to recognize these kinds of scams is to see if they ask you to pay upfront fees, or for sensitive information. We should always do diligent research on any communications that ask for our personal information. You might search their website yourself to see if the offer you received is real or not. Ask questions to figure out if the organization is legitimate. If they ask you for upfront fees with a promise of a prize or commission later on, you should be very wary, as it may be a scam.
In addition to these newer scams, there are of course the older kinds, which often involve scammers sending you an email link, or unexpectedly asking you to “change a password” or otherwise provide them with personal information. You should always be wary when you get an email like this. Sometimes scammers impersonate organizations or people you know. Often, we can check the actual email address where it came from. If you get an email from a person or organization you do not recognize, do not open it and always be critical. As a rule, do not open attachments from people you do not know.
Real Life versus Virtual Life. For better or for worse, our lives are increasingly built around the Internet and digital technologies. While these technologies can help us, they can also degrade our mental health and quality of our friendships. Texting friends or seeing their Facebook messages, for example, is not the same as going for a hike with them. By setting limits on screen-time and social media use, remembering that social media is not a true depiction of your life or the lives of other people, and making time to engage with the real world, we can help maintain fulfilling lives. In addition, being critical of what you see online is very important, whether that’s from friends on social media, or messages from potential scammers.
We believe being aware of these issues and having media literacy can help you keep your personal information, money, and mental health protected.
Perhaps you might get some recommendations from a trusted adult—teacher, librarian, counselor, or a parent—about resources to learn more on this vital issue.