Healthy Screen Use Tools: Practical Online Tools to Help Manage Screen Use
It can feel like an uphill battle making healthy screen use choices. Almost every online company does everything they can to keep us spending as much time as possible on their site as possible. With complex algorithms and teams of smart people working hard on keeping us glued to screens, it’s almost like we have not choice but to spend countless hours on screens.
While companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix try to keep you entertained forever, there are some companies that are trying something different. Some online companies and websites try to empower their users to make healthy online choices and engage in other activities.
Here are a few companies that are doing great things in the pursuit of healthy screen use.
Freedom: The Distraction Blocker
Freedom is a tool to help you improve productivity. During timeframes you select, you have uninterrupted access to your productive online time and blocks distracting websites.
Let’s say you usually get distracted by Facebook or TikTok. If you really need to complete a homework assignment or work project from 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, you can set Freedom to block Facebook, TikTok, and any other social media platform on any device during that timeframe. If you try to access Facebook at 4:03 PM, you will get an annoyingly helpful message saying, “You’re free from Facebook.com.” This allows you not much choice but to get back to the grind of finishing your work.
A feature I like about Freedom is when the software is activated, no one can change the settings. You can only change it outside of the timeframe. Using our previous example, even if you are the administrator and want to access Facebook at 4:03 PM, you won’t be able to.
Now parents, you might be thinking, “I’ve tried to put up online boundaries before but my kid just gets around it. What do I do?!” Kids are smart and Google has a ton of answers on getting around parental blocks. Freedom isn’t perfect, but it does offer a great line of defense to stop distractions and help give the opportunity to increase productivity.
Another cool feature about Freedom is it is cross-platform, meaning you can put it on your phone, computer, and tablet. This helps you stay focused that much more when you run to the bathroom and can’t access the latest TikTok trends.
If you are someone who would like to increase online productivity, check out Freedom.
Screen Time Calculator: Discovering Appropriate Amount of Screen Time
Many parents ask me, “How much screen time should my child have?” My answer is, “It depends.” It depends on your child’s schedule, personality, age, and lifestyle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends one hour of high-quality programing for children two years and older such as Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Sesame Street.
However, the AAP does not give a specific amount of time for teens and adolescents. Some say two hours is the limit, but the AAP does not specifically say that. Even the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offer similar vague guidelines for teens and adolescent screen time. The guidelines are good and helpful, but they don’t give parents an exact number.
That is where the AAP’s Media Time Calculator comes in. You can input all your child's activities then see how much extra time, or screen time, they can have. You can fill one out for schooldays and weekends.
The AAP don’t give an exact number, but they do give great guidelines on what your child or teen should be doing each day. They need to exercise, eat healthy meals, get at least eight hours of sleep, engage in physical or hands-on activities, and spend time with friends and family in the real world.
The AAP recommends having a balanced life. It’s difficult to have five hours of gaming time when your teen has a balanced life.
Screen Time App: A Good First Line of Defense
When it comes to parental controls and phone boundaries, Apple’s Screen Time app does a pretty good job.
You can see how much time you’re on your device(s), put limits, block content, and set downtime or time away from your device. Kids are smart and might get around Screen Time. However, it offers good resistance. It gives them the opportunity to make good choices.
One thing I personally enjoy about Screen Time is the weekly reminders of how much time I’ve spend on my phone. It gives you a notification saying how much time you’ve spend on your phone and how it compares to last week.
You also can see the type of screen use. You can see how much time you spend on information and reading, productivity, entertainment, social, educational and more. It’s a good way to help keep you accountable for your actual time on your device.
Forest & Flora: Gamify No Screen Time
It’s hard to put our phones down. With so many engaging games and apps it feels really boring to set down our device and do something else.
The idea is you start the app with a timer. Then, you set down your phone and work on something else. A forest will start to grow when you don’t pick up your phone. If you check social media in the middle of your timer, the forest won’t grow. You can get points and there are different achievements you can unlock with the more you spend time away from your phone.
Forest is a paid app but Flora is free. They both offer a cool way to be more focused and have time away from your phone.
Game Quitter’s Hobby Tool & Tactile Hobby: Exploring New Hobbies
It’s natural for many of us to find entertainment and hobbies through screens. Video games, social media, YouTube, and Netflix offer many avenues to explore fun and excitement. However, there is great value in diversified hobbies.
While online hobbies are good, hobbies in the real or physical world are very rewarding. Cal Newport talks about the benefits of engaging in tactile hobbies in his book Digital Minimalism. He discusses the insights of a man named Matthew Crawford who quit his lifeless, well-paying desk job to own a motorcycle repair shop.
Not everyone needs to quit their job and repair motorcycles. The value is in making something with your hands. Seeing a physical finished product. Picking up the thing you just made and finding pride in your work. There is great benefit from engaging in hands-on building and creating.
Doing a simple Google search will provide you with a lot of tactile hobby ideas. One place to start looking is TactileHobby.com. This site has good information on different types of hands-on hobbies that can get you started on something fun.
Another site to look for physical world activities is through GameQuitters.com. Game Quitters has a hobby tool that helps you pick a hobby different than video games or YouTube. There are a few screen-related hobbies like coding or online courses. However, those activities are engaging your mind, helping you learn something new, and very different than mindlessly browsing social media.
Utilize these different sites to help you explore new hobbies and interest. This will help diversify your time and improve healthy screen use.
There are many other online tools to help manage healthy screen use. None of them are 100% perfect and will make you engage in healthy screen use. These are just tools that can help set you up for success. They will give you an opportunity to make good choices with your time and how you engage with screens.
Share with your friends and family what online tools help you with healthy screen use. Learn about what others use and why they like it. Start the conversation about how we need to be active participants in our screen use rather than allowing screens to dictate our time and attention.