In theory, limiting screen time has its benefits. Studies have shown that spending too much time online can negatively affect mental health and, in some cases, physical health — but in a pandemic, there isn’t much of a choice.
According to StatsCan, 57 per cent of 15 to 34 year olds reported a notable increase in their social media use since the start of the pandemic, and a Western University study found the average school-age child is spending almost six hours a day plugged into their devices.
With both academic and social life migrating online, it’s difficult to ask students to limit their screen time. For a lot of students, it’s been almost a year since they were last able to spend time with their friends in-person and virtual hangouts are their only option to maintain any sense of community.
Friends students once saw in classrooms, at club meetings or part-time jobs are now harder to keep in touch with. Zoom and texting are some of the only safe ways students can nurture these friendships and maintain a support network.
Beyond that, students and new grads are looking to build a personal brand and network online so they can find employment in a volatile pandemic job market. Restricting their screen time could spell detrimental consequences to their careers.
Increased screen time has also meant marginalized students are able to find each other easily, organize and build a sense of community in an increasingly disjointed world.
But, rampant social media use has cast a dark shadow over the benefits of technology in a pandemic.
Students are constantly exposed to the idealized life of influencers in a quarantine where life is anything but ideal. Doomscrolling through the latest world news on Twitter can wreak havoc on students' anxiety. Plus, excessive time online before bed can also spell dire consequences to students’ sleep schedules — with the blue light interrupting circadian rhythms and keeping users scrolling longer.
So, when it comes to limiting screen time or social media use, the keyword is boundaries.
Using alerts that remind you how long you’ve been on certain apps can be empowering and helpful. Plus, they allow you to make the conscious choice as to whether or not you want to return to Instagram after you find out you’ve been scrolling for three hours straight.
Think before you start scrolling, but don’t forget to forgive yourself the next time you hear, “woah, you’ve been scrolling too long!” from your TikTok feed.