There is a difference between screen time and social media time

CyberPsychologists, in general, have a both-and perspective on technology use. They refer to it as the ‘Goldilocks Hypothesis‘. This hypothesis surmises that there is a balance of ‘just the right amount’ of tech use, rather than the ‘too little’ or ‘too much’ tech use debate. There is, of course, another element to consider: the individual i.e. ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Why’ they are using the technology, and the accompanying impact or empowerment on that individual. The what-how-why framework, developed by Dr Linda Kaye, showcases that not every minute spent using technology has the same impact on everyone.

A recent article in The Washington Post, has helped to highlight that there is a difference between ‘screen time’ (terminology parents often use) and ‘social media time’ (which is what is often measured when referring to smartphone use and teen mental wellness – a rather ‘hot topic’ for many within mass media). In general, there is a correlation between extensive social media use and teens mental health – especially amongst girls. Although this is a worthy debate to be had, the media (and potentially a lot of researchers) seem to have forgotten that spending excessive amounts of time on social media has mental health implications for adults too.

As working adults, we do need to become better at distinguishing between how much time is spent online versus how much time is spent on social media. We also need to become more conscienscious of how the time spent engaging online is taking us away from other activities (known as ‘displacement theory’) that may help to boost our mental wellness – such as time spent in productive work, spending in-person time with families, friends and others in our community, as well as time spent outside or engaging in hobbies, reading, charity work, etc.

Social media companies use the time we spend on social media to make money and they know how to keep us spending a lot of time on their channels. Someone recently said (when referring to smartphone apps) that either we pay for a product, or we are the product.

In light of that, we need to become more conscious of how we view ourselves when we do feel we’ve ‘wasted’ time on social media. We need to stop berating ourselves around ‘wasting scrolling time’. We are agents of our own time choices and can make better choices going forward. A few suggestions:

* Turn off push notifications – helping to reduce a tendancy to slip into periods of mindless scrolling.

* Set aside dedicated ‘social media time’ each day that you can rack-up to ‘guilt free’ scrolling time.

* Reach out to others in your closer network via messenger or a phone call.

* If you have children in your household, have conversations around screen-time, social media time, the boundaries, the benefits and the implications and negotiate an agreed ‘healthy’ amount of time spent on their phone/apps.

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