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7 Ways Your Family can overcome Screen Addictions

Here are the 7 pointers from an article by Jill M. Richardson, "7 Ways Your Family Can Overcome Screen Addiction" posted on

In recent years, more concerns have arisen about children getting too much screen time, and its effects. We wanted to give concerned parents some more ideas on how to lessen screen time, and make more time for human interaction and play, two of the healthiest things we can do.

There are many suggested solutions to getting kids to detach a little more often, and interact with the world around them. We’ve summarized the list here.
  1. Set Limits
  2. Create Quiet Zones
  3. Plan Alternatives
  4. Change the Default
  5. Take a Break
  6. Talk About It
  7. Accept a Compromise

1. Set Limits:

Kids don't know they have a choice not to heed the call of their phones. They have to see adults practice it and hear us talk about it. They need to see us ignore a call or a text because we're talking to them. If kids see parents who are not dependent on their phone, then the kids will learn to do the same.

    Here are some ways to show that the phone/tablet is not the #1 priority.
  • Leave those notifications off
  • Turn off the sound when I'm working on the computer
  • Let a call go to voicemail
  • Don't immediately check your phone when the text tone goes off
  • Close email programs and facebook so you don't see their insistent notifications

I won't apologize for not answering texts and emails if I'm doing something more IMPORTANT. (Something IMPORTANT includes talking to my kids, taking a nap, going on vacation, or anything else I say it is.)

2. Create Quiet Zones

Use positive phrasing rather than restrictive rules. For older ones and parents, an emphasis on "zones" works better. That means you decide what places and times are off limits for screens.

  • Instead the negative "no tech zone" or "no phones time," use language like "Digital free zone" or "quiet zone"
  • Decide for yourself specific times or places when tech is put away and people are priority. Obvious choices would be dinner time, homework time, and time for family to be together and talk about the day.
  • For younger kids, time limits work well. (You can use the iPad from 11-12 and 3-4, and the rest of the time is Creative Time!)
  • Many parents collect devices an hour before bedtime and then take that time for stories of the day, reading, talking, planning, and dreaming.
  • A great option is to opt to make the car a "digital free zone." The car is a great place for talking. Something about side-by-side rather than face-to -face opens kids up to talk more freely.

Only on weekends, or for an hour after dinner, it all depends on your home and family lifestyle.

Doctors unanimously agree that the dangers are too great and parents should fight to keep bedrooms places of refuge from devices. Find a cute basket to designate as your screen drop spot.

Decide together what works for your family and choose your tech free zones. Having these zones tells our kids that "we" is an important thing. Attention is something we do, and together is more important, especially for future growth and social communication.

3. Plan Alternatives

The key is to have plans for something else. If we have a list of non-electronic defaults at hand and the materials needed for them, we're a lot more likely to get our kids, and ourselves, away from the screen.

    Things on our list include:
  • Volunteer somewhere.
  • Get outside and take a hike.
  • Learn to geocache (google it)
  • Take an art class or do an art project.
  • Have a snowball fight or a library trip.
  • Bake cookies.
  • Create scavenger hunt lists and items that could be easily ready for bored times (times that could otherwise lead toward screens).

Keep books right where you normally sit so they are easy to grab instead. Set up board games, puzzles, or art supplies in a central location for easy access. Alternatives need to be as easy as devices.

4. Change the Default

It's no secret, the TV is usually the centerpiece of the living room in most homes. This idea revolves around changing that American norm, and subtly sending the message to our family that our lives do not revolve around media.

  • We can centralize an art table instead of a TV or a computer.
  • We can create an outdoor toy space that's easier to access than a tablet. We're creatures who pick what's first seen and easiest to get to. So why not make that something that isn't a screen?

5. Take a Break

If you think there's a problem with media overuse in your house, or if you want to prevent one, challenge the family to occasional media fasts.

  • Get each person to fast from one or more forms of media—facebook, music, texting, snapchat, TV, etc. for a week.
  • Make it competitive! Every time they cave, they have to put a dollar in a jar.
  • Whoever wins by fasting from the most media and putting in the fewest dollars chooses the charity they go to, your next vacation spot, or a fun activity.
  • Families can do this for a day, a week, or a month, as often as they want. Parents must also participate! (And have good grace when they lose!)

6. Talk About It

Parents talk to their kids a lot about screen time rules, but what if we emphasized talking about exactly what we're doing on the screen and how to make it healthy?

Try small conversations like:

"I think we need some exercise now. It's not that healthy to sit too long. What should we do together?"

"You've really learned to move fast with that game. How about we go outside and you show me the same thing with a soccer ball?"

"I don't want you to be stressed about homework not being done later, and we both want you to do well in school. So let's get that done and then come back to this."

"Some things on the computer are fun, but some might make you uncomfortable. Always come to me or dad and show us what you're worried about. We won't get mad. We want to help you be safe."

Peer pressure, and fear of being left out:

So, your child insists that "everyone" has a smart phone. If he's between 14-17, this is true. 89% of teens have phones. However, only 31% of children 8-10 do. Of that 31%, virtually none actually needs a phone.

We are not required to listen and believe. Will my kid's teeth fall out if I teach her to brush them with no help from a monitor? Will she really fall behind in school if she doesn't have a tablet? We can say "no" to the push to make everything electronic.

It looks fun and effective to use the flashing, colorful apps and such, but really, our kids will enjoy us teaching them brushing, reading, counting, etc more than an electronic stranger. Remember—they make those things attractive for a reason. It's our job as parents to resist and ask ourselves what we really should have rather than what looks good.

But let's say your kid insists that they are ready for a cellphone. How can we figure out if they're really ready?

Various experts recommend some tests to determine cell phone readiness:
  • Do they show responsibility with their things, especially things they're told are important?
  • Do they act on impulse often, a sign that they might spend money or send inappropriate pictures or texts that they (and you) later regret.
  • Do they accept change readily or fight it? If the latter, the possibilities of becoming addicted are greater, as devices are geared to make people stay as long as possible.
  • Do they pick up on social cues well? If not, the potential for cyber bullying is very real and very dangerous.
  • Do they participate in activities in which they need to be able to contact you readily?
  • Do they show emotional maturity so that they can handle the envy social media often causes?
  • Do they understand, really understand, that future colleges and employers will have access to anything they post?
  • Do they communicate with you easily, so that you know they will come to you with a cyber situation they can't handle?
  • Do they have a healthy social life that will continue face to face or are they more likely to use a device to escape difficult real-life conversations and relationships?

7. Accept a Compromise

There are days we won't feel well, or our kids won't. Days we're super busy, or days we simply can't play Legos one more minute. We'll park our kids with the iPad or TV and let the screens win for a moment.

It's OK. It's one day. You'll both be fine. We're after healthy patterns, not perfection.

Electronics are here to stay, and they can be a great blessing to family life.

Dr. Victoria L Dunckley wrote the book Reset Your Child's Brain. In it, she outlines her four-week program to shift a child's brain function from screen addiction, an actual condition she calls Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), to healthier patterns.

She cites an improvement in outbursts, depression, and anger in children with ESS, as well as an improvement for kids diagnosed with ADD and Tourette's, two conditions that tend to cause more dependence on electronics for kids. If a child is truly addicted, like anything else, an intensive removal of the trigger might be necessary.

  • Assess your child and yourself on possible screen addiction. Go here for the test: by Jill M. Richardson.


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