Digital Down-time

It is natural during the winter to spend more time indoors and to gravitate to our computers or the television, to read online and catch up on television series we’ve been wanting to watch – binge watching is a relatively new term to describe this. It is easy to splurge on an hour or so of social media, and sometimes our kids are on Instagram, etc. for even longer time periods.

I get that this is the way we relate now; that this is the future. It is important to note that there is more information arising within the mental health field indicating a real concern around electronic addiction (think social media and video games) that affects our children. But it isn’t just the kids.

I can say that with almost every tween or teen that comes into my office, the topic of electronic use and screen time comes up as a problem at some point along the way. That tells me it is important and we need to talk about it. Electronic or device usage refers to phones, tablets, television, and computers – anything with a screen!

My top 7 suggestions for healthy electronic device usage:

  1. Parents need to be a role model regarding this. I have actually had children and teens complain to me about their parents using electronics too much and not spending time with them!  Or the tween or teen doesn’t take the limits parents set by there parents seriously because their parents seem to use their own devices for long stretches of time.
  2. I think it would be great for the family to record how much time they are using devices recreationally during the course of a day (other than when they are working or doing homework). It may even be more interesting to see what our estimates are and what are actual usage is. It is important to be honest here – one sign of addiction is minimizing use! Denial can also be associated with addiction.
  3. After tracking recreational screen device usage – have a family meeting. Ask the following questions:  Are you surprised to see how much time you/we use our devices?  Is it keeping us from doing other things we might like to do – in other words, if we didn’t have our devices on, what else might we do that we have been wanting to do? Brainstorm other activities that you might like to try as individuals and perhaps as a family, instead of being on our devices.  Is there a hobby you might like to try? Have each member set a goal to start limiting and moderating their device usage and set a time to meet back and discuss how easy or hard it is. This is a time to encourage honesty and not demonize devices, or device usage, instead talk about the concern over online addiction and how it can compromise physical and mental health. Allow your children to be honest in what they share and set realistic goals they think they can master. If they meet their goals perhaps you could set in a reward for the family.
  4. Create OffLine Zones for the whole family, like at the dinner table or going out to eat. I recently saw a family enter a restaurant where I was eating with my husband, and they all sat down, took out their phones, and didn’t even look at each other. Wow.  You could even designate a part of the weekend as Offline – such as Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings (when kids are usually not doing homework) and they have to find alternative things to do.
  5. Using devices is typically a sedentary and indoor activity. Of course we know this isn’t good for physical or mental health. Just deciding to participate in an activity like walking, hiking, biking, or jogging will give you a break from screen time. If you throw in a picnic or going out to lunch (or for an ice cream – I am hopeful for warm weather) it will enhance the experience and lengthen the time away from the devices.
  6. I know of an app called Forest that helps kids or adults exert control over their device usage. When they meet goals (set amounts of time being offline) they grow a tree, and eventually can grow an online forest. Kids really like this app – it makes it fun and is another awareness activity for tracking phone use.
  7. We all know by now that devices can disturb sleep. I know some families that have an Electronic Turn-in at the end of the night so that everyone in the family is free from using their devices after a certain hour (like a hour or so before bed). This can help encourage healthy sleep habits. I have also read that it is not healthy to charge phones or devices in our bedrooms, or by our beds while we are sleeping. Electronic turn-in and charging devices away from bedrooms might be a good idea too.

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