Every time you see your children they’re staring at their smartphones. Screens have taken over. Maybe it's time for a digital detox.
“A way to encourage your teen to have a healthy relationship with technology is for everyone in the family to develop a healthy relationship with technology,” said Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert and TODAY Tastemaker.
While some recommend digital detoxes that last a week or month, that's just not realistic. Unplugging for minutes or hours can help.
“I am really an advocate for a mini-digital detox,” said Dr. Delaney Ruston, a physician and filmmaker who made the documentary Screenagers, which looks at the problems with screen time. “I think the exciting benefit of any type of a detox is that it changes the automatic behaviors and it gives kids an ability to have insight.”
Here are some ways to digitally detox your family without adding too much stress to your lives.
1. Schedule a daily break
Carve out tech-free time each day.
“It is important to create those spaces for your family where everybody puts down the device for 10 minutes,” said Yalda Uhls, author of the book "Media Moms & Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age." “Children start to connect that putting these things away is a way to connect with your family and people you love.”
To make a detox work, Gilboa said parents should ask their children when they want to unplug. Maybe they’ll pick the trip to and from school as tech-free time. Maybe it will be dinner. But having them be a part of decision making means it’ll be more successful.
“Teenagers do better when we give them autonomy,” she said.
2. Help them connect IRL
While some think that teens love their smartphones because they love the Internet, their attachment to phones goes beyond just surfing the web.
“It is not really about having unfettered access to the Internet; it is about having unfettered access to their friends,” said Gilboa.
To foster connections, create opportunities for your children to bond with their friends IRL. Sure, that means you might have 10 teens sleeping over at your house, but it gives them the same connection without being glued to a screen.
3. Have tech-free rooms
Having spaces in the house where no one can use devices means there are places where family members must detox.
Uhls encourages people to keep tablets, phones, and computers in a living room, meaning everyone uses them in the open. Some families prohibit tech on the second floor of the house or the dining room, for example.
But the experts agree that keeping screens from bedrooms means plenty of tech-free time.
“Keeping it out of bedrooms is a really good idea, if you can, because sleep is so important at any age,” said Uhls.
Gilboa recommends that parents install a power strip where everyone charges their phone at night. That way no one’s up all night chatting instead of sleeping.
Tech-free rooms only work if everyone complies; children will resent parents who flout the rules.
“It makes kids particularly frustrated and defensive when they see their parents not doing any type of work toward balance,” said Ruston.
4. Create a contract
A contract about how everyone uses technology keeps the family members accountable for their digital use. Maybe there’s no phones at meals. Other restrictions could include: no phones past 9 p.m.; turning in phones at bedtime; no screens in the bedroom; or no screen time in the car, even for passengers.
It spells out “different rules and ideas of how the whole family will interact with technology,” Uhls said.
For a sample family agreement, the Screenagers contract could be helpful.
Families need to adapt any contract as teens mature.
“You’ll have to revisit it every six months and allow them to have some input in the decision making. At each age and stage they will have new ideas and you will, too,” Uhls said.
5. Make offline empowering
Gilboa suggests parents encourage their children to think of not being available as empowering.
“Saying ‘Nope. I am not going to be available’ and then doing something they really enjoy is really powerful,” she said.
Being connected is a trade-off. Every time you say yes to a Snapchat, you might be saying no to sleep. Responding to your mom’s text in class might lead to detention.
“The most valuable lesson we can teach teens is that every time we say ‘yes’ to something we are saying ‘no’ to something else,” said Gilboa.