Screen time has been a contentious issue in many houses over the years, but has this changed in the last twelve months?
As lockdowns have necessitated home schooling to be conducted on Teams or Zoom, much of the work which has been sent home has had to be done and emailed back or completed on websites, and of course family gatherings and birthday parties have all had to happen online, we have all spent more time on screens than ever.
We have had many discussions about screen time outside of school hours in our house, and what used to be an hour a day on either phone or Playstation has definitely increased as the need for contact with school friends and cousins has been greater than ever.
What impact is this increased screen time likely to be having though?
Are there some things we have learned that have had a really beneficial impact on our lives during this screen heavy time?
Before I begin, I would like to point out that these are my observations, based on my own lessons, habits and what I have seen in my children and family, but I am sure much of this will be relatable which is why I wanted to share.
Let me start by listing all the ways our life has changed, in relation to screens, over the last year:
- Home learning – around 90% of my children’s lessons have either been on Zoom or solely reliant on work on the computer.
- Parents evenings – the parents evenings we have had have been hosted online this year.
- Weekly family Zoom catch ups
- Chats through our Amazon Echo Show to my stepson and his partner
- Birthday parties on Zoom
- Catch ups with cousins and friends through Playstation chat (while playing together)
- Weekly Zoom meetings for football teams
- Chatting to friends through video messages
- Online shopping
- Online quizzes
- Delivering training online to schools and colleges
- Running weekly Zoom wellbeing sessions for charities
- Supporting organisations I work on Zoom
- Attending support groups to lead wellbeing sessions online
This list doesn’t look very long but when I think about the amount of time all of this adds up to, it is a lot. Especially when I factor in the fact that I spend a lot of time working online anyway, writing blogs like this, newsletters, creating resources… and what I have listed above is only the additional screen time.
How has this impacted our lives?
Well, the first thing I think I need to say is that it has probably saved our lives. Without video chats to family and friends and being able to keep in touch with loved ones the last year would have been immeasurably hard. I think the most obvious thing I have noticed though is how tired we all are. We have really struggled with motivation at time, we have had sleep issues and definitely more headaches (despite investing in blue light glasses for the children).
I have been fairly lucky with my children as they are older and mostly well motivated, but even they have struggled to be as enthusiastic as usual about school work.
There has been so much to process and adapting to being on screens so much has certainly been a part of that.
This is how my friends and family now see me. A floating face on a screen – like Holly from Red Dwarf – talking and smiling and catching up on their news whilst either sitting at my desk or on the sofa.
I had a realisation a few weeks ago though.
It occurred to me that although I was missing people, those I see regularly on video calls I don’t miss as much. My brain definitely thinks I have seen people if I have had a video chat.
This opened up a whole area for discussion in my head about the impact of other things we watch on screens. For years and years we have discussed whether violent computer games and films could have a negative impact on the personality of the person watching. I have always been the sort of person who gets invested in anything I am watching. I cry at soap operas. Perhaps it is just that I am more suggestable than some, but it really did make me think about the other things I allow into my head through screen time. More importantly it got me thinking about the things my children and other children are watching.
During lockdown my son has been talking to his friends while playing with them on the Playstation. He has always done this for a couple of hours a week with his closest friends but during lockdown he has been playing with a wider circle of friends. When he told me some of the games they were playing I was genuinely shocked. At 11/12 yrs old they are playing Grand Theft Auto, which is an 18 certificate and some of the content is really not child friendly. I can’t believe I was concerned about Fortnite!
I know I am quite old fashioned when it comes to screen time. I don’t think children should be on screens constantly. They need fresh air, exercise, books, crafts, sports… When the whole of their school day is conducted through a screen though it makes it difficult to impose time limits.
There have been some big wins for screen time though this year.
Here are my top 3:
- Online Parents Evenings – these were slick and so much simpler than drifting around the school sports hall trying to find the next teacher. More efficient for teachers and parents alike.
- Weekly Family Catch Ups – my family live too far away to see them every week. We generally see each other every school holiday. Although I haven’t been able to see them face to face for over 9 months now, we have had a video chat every week for at least two hours and we all agree that we will keep having them even when we are able to see each other again.
- Online INSET – although I much prefer delivering training in person, I have loved being able to reach schools who are further afield and who I would have struggled to book in if I had to travel to them. The teachers have also enjoyed being able to be at home with a cuppa on the sofa while they listen so that is definitely something I will be continuing to offer along side face to face training.
It is good to see that there have been advantages to this year of online teaching, increased screen time and the strange year we have all just lived through. I hope that you have discovered little pockets of joy in your new online habits, and like us, you have discovered things that you really enjoy and want to continue.
Feeling connected to others is vital. Whether we achieve that through face to face meetings or video chat, we are still keeping in touch, seeing the person’s face and reactions. We feel reassured when we see someone’s face, much more than with a phone call or text message. So if you aren’t able to see your loved ones, for whatever reason, make the most of the amazing technology we have and hop on a video call.
This weekend is Mother’s Day in the UK. I can’t see my Mum, but my sister and I have booked for us all to watch the Royal Opera House online streaming of Sleeping Beauty. We are going to sit and watch it at the same time and have a video chat to discuss it afterwards.
As most children return to school this week, their screen time will decrease rapidly. It will be interesting to see if this helps improve their energy levels and whether they begin to feel more motivated and sleep better again. Too much screen time definitely isn’t good for any of us, but I cannot imagine how any of us would have got through the last 12 months without the reassurance and connection it has given us.
Life isn’t the way we would choose at the moment but as always life is what you make it. Let’s choose to make wonderful.