Alternatives to Screen Time

June 29, 2020

Louis Tay

Since the start of stay-at-home restrictions, many of us have created new routines to cope with the new normal.

Our leisure routines are likely to circle an indoor space. It is not surprising that many are turning to our favorite leisure activity – television watching. According to the American Time Use Survey, it is by far what we spend most of our leisure time on: Americans spend an average of 2.8 hours per day watching TV. 

Since COVID restrictions, Comcast has estimated staggering numbers of TV use. Households have their TVs turned on for about 57 hours per week before early March – and now 66 hours per week. It is equivalent to a full workday of TV use each week. Moreover, there is a 40% increase in late-night TV watching between 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. 

Is too much screen time bad for well-being?

TV watching can provide detachment from work and relaxation. And interestingly, evidence is mixed on whether more screen time is associated with poorer mental well-being.

By contrast, research shows that active leisure activities -- and leisure that promotes social relationships are positively related to psychological well-being. These findings imply that while TV watching itself may not be bad for our mental well-being, there are likely opportunity costs on mental well-being associated with our choices.

All that said, one should also consider that it is well-established that a sedentary lifestyle is negatively associated with physical health. Therefore, excessive TV use can negatively impact our physical health due to a lack of physical activity.

What can I do to reduce TV watching?

Being mindful of reducing excessive screen time, here are some ideas to practice:

  1. Monitor TV use: You can record the amount of time you are actively watching television. The act of self-monitoring itself can be an intervention to reduce TV use. 
  1. Removing TV temptation: Research shows that it is easier to place yourself in a context that is absent of the temptation rather than in situations where you are battling the temptation itself.

You could re-organize your home to move the TV set to somewhere less conspicuous. Or – not subscribe to cable TV. You would be amazed at the amount of money you can save as a side benefit. 

  1. Find alternate relaxation activities: It is essential to find suitable replacements of routine TV use. Because most of us watch TV to relax or detach, you can find other activities that serve a similar function.

You might pick up a craft such as sewing, knitting, or painting. Or you could play board or card games with family members. Or take the opportunity to chat with a friend. Or read a good book. 

I have personally relied on audiobooks to pass my time. The upside is that I can get my nose out of a screen, relax, and do other semi-productive things on the side like taking walks, or just doing house chores. 

I hope these ideas are helpful as we find ways to navigate TV usage and develop new leisure choices. 

Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Check back each week for his wellness tip of the week!

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