Students attempt to lower screen time after pandemic caused increased phone use

My days last March looked nearly the same every day — wake up just in time to log onto a Zoom call, then spend the rest of the day rotating through different social media apps, googling Covid-19 symptoms and reading the news. I thought my habits would eventually change and I would get used to life in a pandemic, but that never settled. A year later, my Screen Time still shows an average of eight hours a day. 

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of everyday life, from how we go out in public to how we communicate and even our relationships. One thing that has changed is how we interact with technology and media. 

In 2018, Apple introduced Screen Time, a feature that lets users know how much time they spend on apps, websites and more, according to Apple’s website. Every Sunday morning, a Screen Time report shows up on Apple products like iPhones and iPads alerting users how much time they have spent on their devices. 

DePaul senior Caroline Schlegel started setting app limits before the pandemic hit to prevent her from mindlessly scrolling through apps. 

“I have a one-hour limit for Instagram and Twitter combined,” Schlegel said. “I set that one because I don’t think I need more than an hour of social media every day. If I hit that limit, whatever it is can wait until tomorrow.”

On average, Schlegel’s screen time averages nearly four hours on her phone each day. Most of her days are dedicated to doing work on her computer, but setting limits for apps helps her set boundaries with social media and keeps her focused on school and her job.

DePaul senior Andrea Torres in the past has tried to set app limits but realized her addiction to her phone ran deeper than just time spent on apps. After failed attempts at limiting screen time through app limits, she decided to take a more holistic approach, and completely deleted apps off her phone. This is what Torres calls a social media cleanse. 

“I’ve tried setting limits in the past, but they were never effective for me,” Torres said. “I had no impulse control and would just bypass my time limits by hitting ignore. I’ve never responded well to placing limits on the things I’m addicted to, so I decided to delete my apps off my phone entirely… In fact, I’m gonna go delete all of my apps right now.”

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

Orson Morrison is a clinical psychologist and director of DePaul Family Community services and recognizes how Screen Time data can make a positive difference in an individual’s life, but recommends mindfulness when it comes to our newfound life in an increasingly digital age. 

According to Mindful, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Morrison recommends that when we scroll on social media or use our phone, we should recognize the purpose that we are seeking from it and acknowledge our own needs to  train our brains to slow down a bit. 

“It is a way to train our minds to actually slow down and be intentional about our actions and how we want to live in the present moment,” Morrison said. “We live in such a fast-paced culture, and social media is definitely fast-paced, and it doesn’t really create room to pause and think about what we are doing, so we mindlessly scroll.”

Setting intentions for phone use can be a great tool for finding the ideal balance. Morrison doesn’t necessarily recommend setting app limits, but appreciates how Screen Time data can help develop a healthier relationship with social media and our devices. 

“To get feedback once a week is a nice objective way to know whether we are spending too much time on these activities,” Morrison said. “Taking the data and then being intentional with it and then being like, ‘how am I going to change it for next week,’ that is part of it that I recommend people having.” 

DePaul Senior Cade Torkelson does not believe in app limits and has disabled the Screen Time data report from popping up on Sunday mornings because he knows he spends a lot of time on his phone. Torkelson does not feel inclined to stay off his phone during the pandemic and values his happiness more than a low Screen Time.

“The thing that this pandemic has taught is that happiness is truly what matters, not to be sappy, but it’s true,” Torkelson said. “[At the] end of the day, I just want to be happy. If I spend my free time working on a bomb Instagram feed or being an active member on Twitter, then so be it. I know how to balance my happiness on social media to where it doesn’t affect my mood, so I’m not doing any harm to my wellbeing.”

To develop a healthy relationship with social media, one must balance technology by addressing their basic needs.

“As human beings, there are various things we need to sleep, we need to eat well, we need to exercise, we need to socialize — those are all biologically necessary tasks,” Morrison said. “So screen time can become a problem when it interferes with those other tasks that we need to do. Are you getting the time to do those absolutely necessary things, or is your screen time actually chipping into those developmentally required tasks?” 

At the beginning of the new year, I was getting disturbed with my Screen Time report and decided to limit my app use and now have limits for many social media apps, and most of the time I go over, but it is a small step to making a positive change in my life. It’s nice to know that a lot of my time spent on my phone is directed to talking with friends and family and not just scrolling aimlessly through social media apps.

 I often have to remind myself that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when it comes to Screen Time and that some days are going to be easier and that it is crucial to check in with myself on a day-to-day basis.

“Approaching ourselves with a lot of compassion and kindness is super important; we are living through a global pandemic, and our lives are totally different, and we are going to be using devices and screens a lot more than we once did and not necessarily to judge ourselves harshly for that, but again to reflect on the things that we need to stay healthy,” Morrison said.