Screen time management

12 Sep 2018

Screen time is the amount of time spent on digital devices and media for fun.

The difference between screen time, as we have defined it here, and what most people think of as screen time is that last word: fun. Some of you reading this probably also look at screens to complete schoolwork or tuition. However, screen time use is calculated based on time spent on digital devices for recreational purposes (and you would really have to love your homework to consider it recreational!) such as watching a movie at the cinema, playing a game on your phone on the MRT, or messaging in family chat groups on WhatsApp.

You might point out that you use WhatsApp for school as well, and it can be difficult to draw the line between a short text to the captain of your CCA and a response to a friend in the same minute. However, in calculating your screen time use, it is better to be broader in scope, accounting for as much as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry where screen time management is concerned.

How much screen time is too much?

There are no hard and fast rules for young people when it comes to screen time, as it varies from person to person. It is important stay aware of how much time you’re spending online, and the impact this has on both your school life – making sure that your grades are not suffering – and your social life – making sure that your relationships with your friends and family are not being impacted. If any of these areas are being affected, then you probably need to cut back on how much time you spend online.

What are the effects of too much screen time?

  • Headaches
  • Eye strain
  • Being unable to sleep restfully every night
  • Constantly talking about something from your online life, such as a game or website
  • Thinking that your online activities and friends are more important than anything else
  • Disconnecting from the ‘real world’ and losing touch with your friends and family
  • School work suffering, e.g., constantly being late to school, missing deadlines

This does not mean there are no benefits to having screen time. There are websites, games, and apps that can help you gain literary skills, test your problem-solving skills, and more. However, the key is to find a good balance between your online and offline life and practice good self-control.

What can I do to reduce my screen time use?

  • Be aware of how much time you spend on your phone: apps like Moment can help you track your online usage – not only might the numbers shock you into cutting down your time online, but the app lets you set daily limits on yourself with notifications if you go over them
  • Use an app to help: besides Moment, there are apps like Forest, Hold, and Mute that actively encourage you to cut down on how often you use their phone by rewarding you (either with virtual or real-world rewards)
  • Lock your phone with a really long password: this might seem odd, but if your password is 15 numbers in a random combination, it will take you an extra two seconds to even turn on your phone, in which time you might be able to put it down
  • Keep yourself busy with other activities that do not rely on digital devices, such as active sports, playing a musical instrument, or reading a book (but not on your Kindle!)
  • Have specific times of day where you, and your family members, put down your devices, such as during meal times or for an hour before you go to sleep
  • If you game too often, remember the 3-2-1 rule: play games less than 3 times a week, limit your total screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and play games for less than 1 hour a day

My parents let me go online, but they don’t want me to watch TV or YouTube videos or play games. What else can I do online?

Most people are passive consumers of content – we listen to music, watch hours of our favourite YouTubers, play video games, scroll through Instagram feeds, and so on. However, the online space is full of opportunities for you to be active online users who create content and express yourselves! If your parents let you go online but won’t let you do certain things – it’s okay! The Internet is full of infinite possibilities of active entertainment that will let you grow, learn, and explore. 

I love music

Be it singing or playing an instrument, there are countless apps out there to hone your musical talents. Maybe your parents would be okay with you playing on your tablet if you’re actually learning the piano too?

  • Perfect Ear ($3.58 for full version): develop your aural and theory skills and rhythm without anyone listening in
  • Music Maker JAM (many in-app purchases): create music by arranging loops and samples, and even your own vocal recordings, to make songs
  • Magic Piano by Smule (has in-app purchases): play your favourite songs by following beams of light – you’ll sound like a prodigy from the day you start
  • Music Tutor (free): work on your sight-reading skills, for anyone who plays an instrument and anyone else who just wants to be able to follow notes on the paper
  • Smule (has in-app purchases): you probably know this one, since it’s one of the most popular singing apps out there. It’s karaoke on your phone, and who doesn’t love a bit of karaoke?

I like telling stories

There are lots of apps that help you pick up story-telling and enjoy the creative process. Without downloading anything, the Internet has dozens of options too.

  • DiaryZapp ($5.48 on Android): this virtual diary app lets you scrapbook, write, and document their many adventures – all the creativity without so much of the mess
  • StoryCorps (free): this app lets you interview your parents or grandparents to learn more about their lives, with questions and prompts provided by the app

If you love reading, however, here are some sites that give you access to thousands of free books:

  • Project Gutenberg: these are mainly instructional books and the classics (think about the sorts of old books you read in literature – some of them aren’t so bad, right?)
  • ManyBooks: another giant collection of free books for you to browse through
  • LibriVox: if you have yet to try listening to an audiobook, this is a great place to start, and since it’s run by volunteers it’s also free
  • NLB OverDrive: our very own National Library Board also has an online database where you can download just about any e-book, with instructions right here

If all of that isn’t enough for you, and if maybe your tastes are more in line with your love for a particular movie or book or show, you can even consider reading and writing fanfiction on a site like Wattpad.

I really like making art

In this technological day and age, there are so many new ways for you to show off their artistic skills, and on so many new platforms too. There are dozens of apps for making art, but also apps specifically for you to draw in your own cartoons with panels and dialogue balloons or for an aspiring fashionista to draw out your latest fashion designs.

  • Comic Page Creator (free): a simple app which acts as a great introduction to creating a comic – who knows, maybe you could draw the next Superman
  • Fashion Design Flat Sketch (free): if you love clothes, try this app, which lets you make up sketches of different outfits through mix and match
  • SketchBook (free): an app that lets you create almost professional virtual drawings, this is for any artist who wants to work on their digital device instead of pen and paper, because it does almost all the same things

I’d like to pick up coding

It’s never too early to start coding – and apps that help you learn give you the chance to explore the digital world through game-making instead of playing, for a change. If you

  • SoloLearn: Learn to Code (free, with in-app purchases): one of the most comprehensive apps on coding, so you can learn anything from HTML to Ruby to Java.
  • TinyTap (different prices): this comprehensive app teaches you a range of subjects through interactive games, including activities specifically for kids with special needs
  • Khan Academy: this is not an app but a website, but infinitely useful and a great introduction to any subject, including programming