Jigsaw Online | Advice for young people | Time spent online

Time spent online

Not a day goes by without some comment alluding to time spent online and social media being the root cause of any problem that young people face. Technology, social media and our relatively new sense of connectedness is not usually portrayed in a positive light.

It’s pretty contradictory as nearly all of our daily business is conducted online. For many people, their jobs or schoolwork relies heavily on being online or connected. Digital communication with friends, family, teachers, colleagues and classmates is very common and sometimes it’s extremely important for us to have access to it. The list could go on: banking, booking travel, applying to jobs, and entertainment are all examples of things we do online.

But, when we ask young people how long they spend online they often make reference to the time they spend as being bad or negative. We’re all guilty of mindless scrolling at times, but does that make it bad?

Time online and mental health

We recently launched the results of My World Survey 2. This report gives us an insight into the lived realities of over 19,000 young people in Ireland. It found that spending over three hours per day online was linked to feeling low or poor mental health.

We must stress the term ‘link’ here, and note this is not the same as a cause. Spending a lot of time online could be because you may be feeling low and are not motivated to do anything else. It could also mean you’re bored and have nothing else to do. Perhaps there aren’t any things going on around that you find interesting but when you’re online there are so many options.

Where are you spending the time?

Spending large amounts of time online has become necessary for a lot of young people in terms of communication, study, work and entertainment. Although those larger quantities of time have been linked to poor mental health, it could also be the case that the individuals were feeling low when surveyed for research. With any study like this, it’s important to consider the varieties of contexts.

You know how much time is the right amount for you. If you feel time spent online interferes with your day-to-day activities, it’s time to look at cutting down. Equally, if the things you do online make you feel bad about yourself, it’s time to take control of this. Take a look at the measures available to help you manage your time.

If time online is making you feel bad, take more breaks.

Not all time online is equal

Spending an hour chatting with your mates is not the same as watching pornography for an hour online. These two activities have a very different impact on your mental health.

Games also get bad press from those who don’t know much about them. However, online gaming can be a really immersive and enjoyable experience. It can also connect you with like-minded people. It’s good to ensure though that one hobby isn’t dominating too much of your time that would be allocated elsewhere, such as cutting into time spent with friends or family.

There are also ways to help look after your mental health online. These could be websites or supports like ourselves *ahem* or  mental health apps.

Managing your time online

Many young people we work with are well aware of the amount of time they spend online. There are now features on our phones that tell us how many times we picked up our devices and how much time we spend on them.

What we’re getting at here is the most boring advice of all. Moderation. Balance. Having enough space and time for the things you need to do in your life and not feeling overly dependent on one thing.

If time online is making you feel bad, take more breaks.

The Forest App for mobile encourages you to put down your phone and focus on what’s more important in your life. The Forest App partners with a real-tree-planting organisation (Trees for the Future) to plant real trees on the earth. When users spend virtual coins they earn in Forest on planting real trees, Forest team donates to their partner and creates orders of planting.

We know technology is having an impact on all of our sleeping habits.

Social media and body image

The data from My World 2 also highlights a trend between negative body esteem and time online.

We receive messages from all directions about our bodies, and it can be really difficult to dodge them. We’re often made to feel badly about not being muscular or thin enough. Social media can send these messages to us 24/7.

Even when we know that a lot of camera and lights trickery can go into certain shots, we still compare our normal selves with other people’s best selves. And we do know that can have a very negative impact on our mental health. Social media can also be full of people posting about everything they eat and dishing out (sorry) dubious nutrition advice. Read more about body image and mental health.

Technology and sleep

OK, let’s be honest, we’re all aware of this one. We know technology is having an impact on all of our sleeping habits.

Staying up late on your phone is not an uncommon experience for many of us. Checking Instagram one more time or Whatsapping until 2 am when you know you have school, college or work the next morning. Playing a multiplayer game until 4 in the morning, because it’s the weekend. You probably already recognise how this can wreak havoc on your sleeping rhythm. The effects of binge-watching a show on Netflix every night on mid-term break will be felt for a few weeks. These habits mean you are not switching off properly to wind down before you get to sleep.

There is plenty of evidence about the impact of back-lit devices and what they do us. But it’s easy to see the impact for yourself. You know how being on your phone in bed just before you try to go to sleep can leave you feeling a bit wired.

Work on developing a good wind down routine before bed to help your sleep. A good sleeping habit is important for your mental health. You can find out more about sleep and mental health right here on Jigsaw Online.