Kath Healy from NaturePlay WA has spent a lot of time teaching us how to work with our kids to get them off their screens and into nature. We’ve learnt so much about how screen time impacts children’s mental health and learning. Now, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and evaluate our own habits.
“We talk about our kids being addicted to videogames. When it’s us though, we come up with an excuse, like ‘oh I’m doing my banking'” said Kath. “But you can do these things and then put it away. But we don’t because they’re so addictive and the next thing you know, you’re just checking Instagram!”
15 years ago we didn’t have mobile phones. So if you called someone and they didn’t answer you left a message. You probably wouldn’t hear back from them for a day or so and there was nothing wrong with that. However now, if you don’t instantly reply when someone calls or messages you. Firstly, you feel guilty for not paying attention to this squeaking, squawking box. Secondly, on the other side of the conversation, when someone doesn’t answer you, you start thinking “are they avoiding me?”
The combined forces of social media, the pandemic and the US election see device reliance soar.
Kath shared an article by Lifehacker, which describes how titanic events this year, like the pandemic and US election have made us even more reliant on our phones. The article highlighted a study by Pennsylvania State University and Jinan University in Guangzhou, China directly links the use of social media with increased anxiety since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
“We are literally on it all the time. People get their news through Facebook. We message each other through Facebook Messenger. Now we don’t even text each other anymore. We message through Messenger. So it’s really, become literally a part of our lives.”
This isn’t just a matter of getting off our backsides.
Kath warns that the danger of screen time isn’t just the physical act of sitting and staring. It’s not just about sitting on your butt for too long, straining your back and your eyes. It’s the content on social media that is damaging.
“People have gotten very savvy about how to use it, and how to influence people through social media. There’s some stuff in there that’s very cleverly written and very cleverly tweaked to make you think things that aren’t necessarily true.”
Kath advises activating the settings on your phone and apps that give you an update of how long each day (or week) you’re spending on your device. It calculates all the minutes (or hours) you’ve spent on your screen and what you’re looking at. Then you can ask yourself “all those minutes of my life are gone, did I really need to spend all that time scrolling Instagram?”
At the end of the day, we want to be a good example for our kids. These days when you’re at the park, sometimes you’ll see kids having fun on the swings and their parents are on their phone. Don’t get us wrong, it’s so understandable. We know the feeling, when the kids are distracted you realise you have a few minutes to write down the grocery list or to call your mum back. But we forget that, not so long ago, we didn’t have to means to do these things, so we just didn’t and that was ok. So we need to give ourselves permission, to put our phone down and just not do them.
Kath acknowledges she probably sounds repetitive. But she knows how addictive these little boxes are. She won’t stop reminding us until things change for the better. The Nature Play WA website is full of activity ideas and digital resources to help you, so Kath isn’t just telling us what to do, she’s giving us tips on how. So, is it time to put your phone down?
Catch up on the podcast below:
Kath Healy joins The Breakfast Show every second Friday after 8:30 am.