Jeremy Edge, LPC
Winter Break and Balancing Screen Use: Challenges and Tips for Students During a School Break
Thanksgiving 2021 is behind us but the winter break is almost here. Many students are released from school with two weeks on their hands to sleep in, try not to think about school, and spend more time on screens. The extra time is nice but often teens and college students struggle knowing how to find healthy balance with screen use. Here are some challenges with winter break and tips for balancing screen use.
Challenge 1: Associating Work as No Fun
Winter break gives students time away from classes, schedules, and homework. Many students feel free to do whatever they want. Many are excited to have time away from school, thinking they just need a break. While it is important to have time away from stress, many students associate school or work as a bad thing. They feel there is nothing positive about it, just another thing keeping them from doing what they want to do which is anything besides work.
While classes can feel boring at times, they provide structure, purpose, opportunities to learn and explore new ideas. It’s fun to explore new concepts and find solutions to complex problems. School is a great environment for connecting with peers and making friends. Even the homework improves student’s self-discipline and focus which is an important life-skill. It’s natural for students to associate school with no fun, but there is a deeper level of satisfaction that comes from working hard in school.
Challenge 2: More Free-Time Does Not Always Mean More Fun-Time
Two weeks off can feel like a green light for students to do literally anything they want! Well, not anything. But many are excited to enjoy no classes or schedule. They are free to stay up late, not worry about school responsibilities, and veg out with YouTube. It’s natural for student’s screen time to increase by two or three times during a winter break. But the absence of structure can rob students of security and stability.
School structure can protect students from laziness and even depression. School gives students activity to focus on and something to do. It gives students purpose. When people see no purpose in life, they can become depressed and overwhelmed.
Students don’t have to love school to reap the rewards like finding joy in work. Students improve their confidence when they work hard on a school project and they receive praise, good grades, or some positive validation from their efforts. Yes, free-time is great. But, school-time is needed too.
Challenge 3: Entertainment-Based Screen Time Can Prevent a Healthy Lifestyle
As humans, for the most part, we are rewarded for making healthy choices. By eating fruits and vegetables we can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of a stroke or heart problems, prevent some cancers, reduce the risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive impact on blood sugar. By getting at least eight hours of sleep per day we improve memory, productivity, and mood and by exercising daily, we reduce the risk of a heart attack, lower blood pressure, and improve mental strength. These healthy choices can be hard to make but the benefits are great.
Video games, social media, and streaming platforms are entertaining and fun. But these activities can prevent us from experiencing the positives from 8+ hours of sleep or daily exercise. If we are so engrossed in the new season of Tiger King, we might skip lunch or stay up all night. With an almost endless amount of online content to consume, it can be hard to make healthy choices when we are stuck in those platforms.
The interesting thing is we enhance our entertainment-based screen use when we prioritize sleep, nutrition, and exercise. With improved mood, we won’t get as depressed if we see something disturbing on social media. With improved mental strength, we can improve gaming performance. We gain the positives from online entertainment AND the benefits of a healthy lifestyle when we balance screen use appropriately.
Tips for Balanced Screen Use During a Break
Tip 1: Work On a Project
As discussed above, students could associate work with pain or no fun. However, humans actually enjoy work and experience great pleasure and joy from it. Find a project that is interesting to you and dive into it. Build a fantasy-based model. Bake something delicious. Draw! Working on and progressing on a project helps improve your self-esteem and confidence. Plus, it’s fun!
Tip 2: Enjoy Time On and Off Your Devices
Time on and off screens can improve the quality of a student’s winter break. While gaming is fun, gaming AND going on a walk AND playing a board game with family AND hanging out with friends in-person are ways to enhance the break.
Video games and social media platforms are designed to keep you on the screen for as long as possible. But being purposeful about our screen use can help students have the healthiest and most balanced time on screens.
Tip 3: Give Yourself Time Limits Then Transition to Something You Like
When you are on your device, enjoy it! Enjoy that game, video, or social interaction. But have an end point by giving yourself a time limit. For example, enjoy an hour of YouTube and TikTok videos. Then, go enjoy something else in the physical world. Go do something you naturally enjoy or that could be fun.
A trick to transition away from screens is take what you enjoy about your screen activity and find it in another activity. For example, if you play games like Call of Duty, Apex Legends, or Fortnite, you probably enjoy competition, progression, and past-paced activities. When transitioning away from screens, do something that is competitive, past-paced, and has the ability to progress. An example could be playing basketball, chess, or running.
Tip 4: Connect With People On and Offline
We can make many positive connections online. Like playing an organized sport, video games can help students work together, communicate, and bond. There are many ways people can connect through social media and streaming services. Many relationships can not happen if it was not for screens.
While relationships can be built online, they are also built in-person. People NEED in-person connection. We are social beings and we simply can not feel as connected to others if we are not in the same room with them. Case and point: COVID and 2020. We were able to continue talking with each other through Zoom, but many, students in particular, felt more alone than before the pandemic. We are social beings who need in-person interactions.
I hope you enjoy your winter break this year! Enjoy future breaks and vacations. Make the most of your screen time and use screens intentionally. Like healthy eating, when we use screens appropriately, they improve our health and wellbeing. But if abused, we become fat and die.
Well, not exactly but we suffer none the less.