After nearly two years of spending copious amounts of time engaging in virtual activities, many kids (and parents!) are finding it tough to cut down on screen time. According to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, adolescents’ screen time doubled to nearly eight hours per day during the pandemic. Younger kids’ daily screen time has skyrocketed too.
Another recent survey published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports found that on average, children engage in nearly six hours of screen time per day. Some of the worst offenders in the survey spend an astonishing 13 hours a day in front of screens. But kids aren’t the only ones spending more time stuck to their devices.
Even adults report spending approximately five to six hours on their phones each day, and that does not include work-related screen time. Suffice it to say most of us have a bit of a screen problem these days, but here’s the good news: There’s something we can do about it.
What exactly is that? Read on for tips that’ll help you wean your kids and yourself off screens.
Give Your Kids a Safe Smartphone
If you have children who are still a bit too young for a cell phone, gradually introduce them to smart tech. How do you do that when it seems like every device can access the internet these days? Choose a device that’s designated as a kids phone.
These types of phones only allow voice and text communication. They don’t connect to the web, app stores, games, or anything else that might glue your children’s eyes to the screen. Ultimately, limiting your kids’ tech use at an early age can help them form healthier screen time habits as they grow. And the easiest and most effective way to do that is to choose devices that have native screen-time-limiting capabilities.
So what’s the right age to introduce your kids to a smartphone? That depends on several factors unique to your children and their maturity level. Generally, though, health experts recommend waiting to give kids a smartphone until they’re at least 10 years old. If you can wait longer, that’s even better.
Reset (or Set) Household Tech Rules
Did you have screen time rules before the pandemic hit? Did those rules go out the window when extended lockdowns, virtual school, and virtual work became the new norm? If so, it’s time to reset your old tech rules and stick by those household screen time standards. If your pre-pandemic tech rules were fairly lackadaisical (or non-existent), you’ll want to create clear screen time ground rules the whole family should adhere to.
What do healthy tech-use rules look like? Here are a few ideas for the whole family:
- No screens at bedtime
- Shut off screens during mealtimes and family outings
- Establish reasonable time limits on daily tech use to encourage mental and physical health
- Don’t use screens as a pacifier, to stop emotional outbursts, or as a passive babysitter
It’s helpful to sit down with the entire family and discuss the new household tech rules you’d like to implement. That way, everyone will understand the new expectations before you set them. More importantly, the whole family will have an opportunity to chat about screen use, how it’s affecting mental and physical health, and why it’s important for everyone to wean off screens.
Take a Weekly Tech Break
Designate one day during the week on which your kids (and you) will ditch your devices. Weekend days are ideal since it’s less likely that either of you will need to use your phone, tablet, etc. for anything work- or school-related. If your profession requires you to check in on your phone on the weekends, that’s fine, but limit your use to work-related virtual activities only.
If you’re new to screenless days and your family finds it tough to avoid devices for a 24-hour period, try starting with just a few hours first. Over time, gradually increase the number of screenless hours you spend on your designated tech break day. Eventually, everyone will be able to make it through a full day without getting glued to a screen.
Why do this? Taking a full-on break from screens one day per week essentially resets your and your kids’ technology use. A fully screenless day allows your family to spend more time really connecting with one another and being creative outside of the digital realm.
Create a Plan for Replacing Screen Time
If your kids are accustomed to hours upon hours of screen time each day, they’re used to a lot of stimulation. And unfortunately, reality can seem pretty boring compared to the high-pleasure, high-reward virtual world. Since tech is often designed to suck kids in, keep them engaged, and make it tough for them to stop, changing your kids’ screen time habits will be challenging at first.
Be prepared for whining and complaining (because it will happen) with pre-planned activities that replace what would normally be tech time. Choose activities you know your kids enjoy and even better, activities the whole family can engage in together.
When you have a plan in place, you’ll not only limit your kids’ screen time but also help them learn or re-learn to engage in in-person activities rather than sitting around bored. Having family activities planned will allow you to limit your screen time, too. Ultimately, you’ll all spend more quality time connecting with and enjoying each other.
Screens are ubiquitous these days. And while they’ve become an integral part of daily life in many ways, they certainly shouldn’t dominate your kids’ or your waking moments. So sit down with your kids, discuss your own screen time goals, and why it’s important for everyone to limit the time they spend in front of screens. When your kids see you making changes, they’ll be more likely to follow suit.