You may have heard that social media use can be harmful to your productivity, executive control and even your self-esteem. However, the internet is an integral part of most people’s lives these days. This means being more productive, efficient and confident are easier said than done, especially when you don’t monitor or regulate your use.
Do you have a child who is addicted to social media? Let me introduce you to some of the best apps that give you control over how your children use social media. You no longer have to worry about your kids staying up late, ignoring homework or other activities because of their obsessions with Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Here are four ways that you can help your kids enjoy social media responsibly.
Keep apps out of sight, so they’re out of mind
Hands up if you’ve ever had to hide the Tim Tams because you know you’ll eat the whole packet? Guilty as charged. The same goes for social media: try moving your apps away from the home screen and into folders to avoid overindulging.
If you want to go one step further, you could delete the apps from your phone. Decide on a regular time for checking social media (say, Fridays between 6 and 8 pm), and don’t log-in otherwise.
You can also turn off notifications for specific apps in your settings, so you’re not constantly tempted to open apps and get sucked into a social media time vortex. You could also turn off data (or switch your phone to airplane mode).
Use apps to help you limit your time on social media
Using an app to reduce your time spent on apps may seem ironic, but there are many apps and features that can help you to limit your social media use.
- Forest allows you to set a period of time (say, 20 minutes) when you commit not to use your phone. During that time, a digital plant will grow in the app. If you use your phone at this time, Forest sends you a notification to get off the app or your plant will die!
- Daywise lets you schedule times for receiving notifications, so that they’re not constantly distracting you.
- The Do Not Disturb feature on the iPhone silences all calls and notifications (such as vibrations or the screen lighting up) when the phone is locked.
- On Instagram, under ‘Your activity’ in account settings, you can see how much time you spend daily using the app. To reduce your usage, set a daily reminder that notifies you when you’ve reached the amount of time you’ve decided to spend on the app.
- In Settings on iPhone, you can turn on ‘Screen Time’, which will give you reports on your phone usage and allow you to set limits on your use.
Spend an hour a week on at least one screen-free hobby
There are plenty of hours in a day, and even more hours in a week! Pick a screen-free hobby and commit to spending an hour on it once a week. Join a yoga class, read a book, plant a herb garden or walk a friend’s dog – anything that will be a solid break from your screen. After you’ve found something you enjoy spending time on, you can amp up the hours, or branch out and add more activities. Get some ideas here.
During hobby time, switch your phone to Do Not Disturb mode (or turn it off completely) so you’re not distracted.
Research has shown that people who engage in hobbies related to the arts (performing arts, visual arts, reading, etc.) for two or more hours a week report significantly better mental wellbeing that other levels of engagement.
Enjoy a phone-free dinner
The best part of going out to dinner is catching up with friends. (Okay, we lied: it’s the food. But friends come a close second!) You’ve put aside the time to spend with your friends – make the most of it!
Put your phone in your bag (or someone else’s) during dinner, rather than in your pocket, so you’re not tempted by those pesky buzzes.
Track Time Spent on Social Media
You might feel like you’re spending too much time on social media, but how much is too much? How much do you need to cut back? You can’t know the answers until you measure what you’re doing now.
RescueTime is an app for all major platforms that tracks the amount of time you spend on different sites and applications. It can also block sites that it thinks are most distracting to you (more on that in the next section). Apple limits how much it can track on its mobile devices, however, so you may need to use a separate tool for that.
iOS has a built-in tool called Screen Time that tracks how much time you spend on your iPhone, including the exact number of minutes in different apps. From your home screen, swipe right to find a summary. Tap the summary to dive deeper into it.
Google has a similar feature on some of its phones called Wellbeing. There are other third-party Android apps, too. PCMag hasn’t reviewed any, but you can search for “phone usage tracker apps” and find one that works for you.
Use Browser Extensions to Block Social Networking Sites
On desktops and laptops, one of the best tools you can use to limit your social media usage is a browser extension that blocks access to sites you choose. Some of them also track time on sites and apps, so those can do double duty.
RescueTime, which I mentioned above, has a feature for premium members that blocks distracting websites. It’s called FocusTime, and it figures out which sites distract you based on your previous history. When you turn on FocusTime, it blocks all those sites for a period of time you set. You can override any site that the app has identified incorrectly. FocusTime also integrates with other apps such as Slack, where it can update your status automatically to let people know not to disturb you.
A few browser extensions offer the same temporary blocking function. One that I like is called StrictWorkflow (free, Chrome). It blocks you from sites that you choose whenever you opt into a phase of focused work by clicking the icon in your browser bar.
Take the hours you spend online and add them together. Then ask yourself: what else could you be doing with that time?
Being self aware of exactly what you’re doing online helps you gain perspective. If you’re using Facebook to get updates about your book club, then notice whenever you stay logged in to comment on your distant cousin’s political rants.
Ask yourself: what do you really want to get out of social media?
Then ask: are you using social media in the best way to accomplish those goals?
Before you pick up your phone, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish during that online session. When you put your phone down again, ask yourself how you managed. Did you get distracted and spent an unplanned hour scrolling?
Be aware of your mood and how your online time makes you feel. Do you find yourself scrolling competitors’ feeds whenever you feel low about your own business?
If you’re scrolling because you’re too tired to do anything else, ask yourself if social media is really the best way to unwind.
Do a digital detox
If your scrolling leaves you feeling anxious, then limiting your online time might not help.
Have you ever gone on a diet and found yourself suddenly craving chocolate?
When you’re addicted to social media, sometimes it’s best to just take a break. If you limit yourself to an hour of social media a day, you’ll be constantly thinking about your phone like a dieter constantly thinks about their cravings.
To get a taste of the offline life, take a digital detox for a few days – to the point where you’re no longer constantly thinking about social media.
When you return online, you’ll have a valuable perspective on what an offline life feels like. You’ll see the benefits of a less hectic morning or a quiet evening away from your phone. And you won’t want to return to your old addiction again.
You might even find, when you log back in, that you didn’t miss as much as you’d imagined.
Here’s how to do an effective digital detox:
- Get your phone out of sight. When your phone isn’t easily accessible on your nightstand, then it’s much easier to take a digital break. Keep your phone in another room when you’re working, and put it away in a drawer when you’re going to bed. Out of sight – out of mind.
- Log out of your social media accounts and delete your social apps. Why fight temptation when you can avoid it altogether? Getting social media off your phone makes your accounts harder to access – and that makes it easier to detox. If you must check in with a friend, then access social media on your laptop and log out when you’re done.
- Get busy with something else. Sitting around and thinking about your smartphone isn’t the best way to spend your digital detox. Ruminating makes your detox tedious and less likely to stick. Instead, use your offline time to take a walk, listen to music, start an art project or read a good book. Throw yourself into something you’ve always wished you had more time for.
- Don’t give up. When you find yourself logging back in, and binging for a few hours of Instagram Stories, then don’t despair. Don’t use your lapse as an excuse to give up your detox altogether. Forgive yourself and keep your detox going. A short lapse or two is inevitable in the beginning. Use your relapse experience as a chance to better understand your social media addiction.
Once you’ve done a longer detox, then make it a habit. Plan a day every week to spend away from your phone. Make 9pm the cutoff time to switch off your phone every evening.
Your life won’t miraculously become anxiety-free. But it will feel good to no longer feel obliged to check your phone every hour.
It has been demonstrated that heavy social media use has negative effects on mental well-being. There are a number of studies linking social media usage and depression, as well as links between social media usage and sleep deprivation. However, there is plenty of conflicting evidence about the effects of social media on mental health.