This post defines mindful and mindless screen time, and offers ways to help kids become more aware of their own screen behaviors.
My teen daughter takes a break from TikTok over the summer. This is no easy task, given that staying up-to-date on trends means staying current on what is happening on social media for many teens. Plus, TikTok’s entertaining content and robust algorithm make it incredibly engaging.
Yet, each June, she logs off and returns to reading, spending time outside, and hanging out with friends. Her summer TikTok breaks were inspired by her realization that the time she spends on the platform replaces time she used to spend doing other things she enjoys.
Mindful Versus Mindless Screen Time
I call this “mindful screen time,” or being intentional with our time on devices. It’s the opposite of “mindless screen time,” or scrolling and watching digital content instead of doing other things we want or need to do.
Many of us, myself included, spend time mindlessly scrolling devices. It can be a way to relax and unwind. But, when our mindless screen time grows and grows, it displaces other things that bring us joy or simply need to get done.
Noticing mindful versus mindless screentime is a skill that takes awareness and practice, especially for kids and teens. To help kids build awareness, I share the concept in Chapter 1 of The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand.
To explore this at home or in your classroom, try these activities:
1. Discuss Mindful Versus Mindless Screen Time
Review the mindful and mindless screen time descriptions below. Have everyone share which “mindless” screen time examples they find easiest to get lost in. Are there other mindless screen activities that come to mind? Which “mindful” screen activities feel inspiring and useful?
|Mindful Screen Time||Mindless Screen Time|
|Sending messages to connect with people|
Watching videos to learn new things and find information
Playing games with friends and family
Creating art and content
|Making fun of other people’s posts|
Scrolling out of boredom
Watching things you don’t care about
Avoiding activities you want or need to do because screen time is easier
2. Make a List of Things You Like to Do or Want to Learn
When you find yourself lost in mindless screen time, it may be a good time to do something else. List three things you like to do or want to learn. (For example, read books, bake, learn guitar, etc.) Post this list somewhere you will see it often.
Three Things I Like to Do or Want to Learn:
3. Take an Inventory of Your Day
Think about your usual day. What do you do? How much time do you spend attending school or working, sleeping, looking at your screen, doing chores, etc. Use colored pencils or markers to shade and label the circle’s slices with how you usually spend your time.
Your Usual Day
(Each slice = one hour of a 24-hour day)
Now, think about your ideal day. Fill in each hour slice with how you would like to spend your free time, including any screen time and activities you want to do or learn. Be sure to shade the hours you sleep, do chores, and go to school. But your free time is yours to manage as you wish.
Your Ideal Day
(Each slice = one hour of a 24-hour day)
Compare your two circles. How does your usual day compare to your ideal day? Would you change anything to make your usual day more ideal?
Mindful Screen Time Takes Practice
In today’s tech-obsessed world, using screens mindfully takes intention and practice. Many apps and games are designed to keep us engaged, so it makes sense it’s hard to change our focus. Technology and cell phones are powerful tools. When screens are used mindfully and as a force for good, they positively impact our lives and the world.
About Jessica Speer:
Jessica Speer is the author of books for kids and teens, including The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand. She is also the author of the award-winning, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, both of which grew from her work with kids. Blending social science, stories, and fun activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com