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If your family looks anything like the average American family, you’re probably on your screens too much and can use some help. We all want our families to be as healthy as possible. Overuse of our devices can have a negative effect, not only on our health, but on our family dynamic. Our gadgets are causing us to sit rather than move, and swipe rather than speak. Cutting back isn’t easy but has huge benefits. How much screen time is too much, and what can our families do to reduce time spent on devices?

Screen Time Guidelines

In Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parent’s Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe, she provides recommendations for kids of different ages, toddlers through teens as well as for adults. When asked about time guidelines, she stresses that, although useful as a guide, time limits are less important than the quality and format of viewed content.

Especially for young children, fast-moving, light-flashing content can be overly arousing to the developing nervous system which can lead to stress and effect brain wiring long term. Compulsive and addictive use patterns driven by notifications and rewarding images and sounds can also have detrimental brain and behavior impact. Sexuality and violence are particularly potent to capture our attention, which means lots of exposure to ads and big profit. For children, inappropriate content can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and depression. She says, for the first time in 23 years of practice, she is seeing young children with panic disorder. She attributes some of these cases to poorly managed screen use.

Dr. Bennett wrote Screen Time in the Mean Time because simple guidelines aren’t enough to protect healthy development and relationships. Each family member has different communication and information access needs. Personalized content and use patterns matter. Rather than set a hard time guideline and leave it at that, she says parents can teach sensible screen programming, choice, and use strategies for smart screen use. Kids need to know why rules exist and be able to negotiate for reasonable access. Just taking screens away overlooks critical learning opportunities. Our screens provide enormous benefits in entertainment, access to information, communication, skill-building, storage, and safety. Knowing how our screen devices affect us and how to manage them are critical first steps to smart screen use.

Risks of Excess Device Use

Recent studies have shown that too much time on your devices can lead to health problems such as:

Obesity 

Watching television for more than 1.5 hours per day is a risk factor of obesity for children who are between the ages of 4 and 9. You are more likely to watch more TV when having one in the bedroom. Teens and children are 5 times more likely to be obese if they watch 5 or more hours of TV per day, than those who watch 0-2 hours per day (Why to limit your child’s media use, 2016).

Sleep Problems

A high exposure to screen media and sleeping with a phone in your bedroom puts you at a greater risk for sleep interference. The light that emits from your phone, blue light, is particularly harmful to your child’s sleep quality, because it triggers a dip in your sleep regulating hormone, melatonin. Poor quality of sleep can then lead to memory problems, loss of initiative, an inability to prioritized tasks, mood and anxiety symptoms, and poor academic performance overall (Bennett, 2018; Why to limit your child’s media use, 2016). Without sufficient sleep, the brain is unable to do its housekeeping duties, which includes memory consolidation and removal of toxins, Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to learning deficits, cardiovascular risks, buildup of toxic proteins that can lead to increased risk for Alzheimers, and an impoverished immune system. This is why Dr. Bennett believes that sleep deprivation is the number one risk to mental health today.

Poor Learning and School Performance

Children and teens tend to divide their attention between homework, TV, and smartphones. Dr. Bennett calls this “multitasking.” Multitasking can lead to poor quality work, wasted time, and mental brownout, which is irritability, fatigue, and depression (Bennett, 2018).

kids avoiding screen time by playing outside

Tips on how to reduce screen time:

Be a role model and be consistent.

Achieving lifestyle changes as a family brings comradery, accountability, and a greater chance of success.

Get honest, set a goal, and reach it.

Have a clear vision of what you want your lifestyle to look like and plan the steps to get there. Time management apps are helpful to track and manage. screen use. Bennett’s home staging tips can also be life altering. Starting sooner rather than later will help everyone build positive habit with less resistance. The GKIS Family Living Agreement is a comprehensive and easy0-to-use tool that helps with education, goal setting, and learning family values.

No screens in the bedroom, bathroom, or behind closed doors.

Don’t even use your phone as an alarm clock. If you glance at it during the night, you’ll get distracted by social media and lose critical rejuvenating sleep. This can become a habit and lead to long-term sleep problems. Use a GKIS Family Docking Station to resist temptation.

Build screen-free dinners into the schedule.

Make meal time family time. The dinner table is a great place to bond with your family, catch up on how school or work went, and talk about plans for the week. This is the perfect opportunity to pay compliments and give thanks. Let your family know how grateful you are to have them in your life, it is these precious moments that we let slip by looking at our phones rather than truly engaging in our loved ones.

Modify your phones to be less appealing.

Delete apps. Grayscale. Turn off notifications. Put apps with notifications on a backpage of your smartphone. The world won’t end, you’ll be fine. Making your phone less attractive will cut your screen time and transform your phone from entertainment, to utility; the way it was intended.Cut your social media contacts to Dunbar’s number, 150.
Research shows that we have a limited amount of friend slots in our brain, which adds up to about 150. After that, relationship quality deteriorates to acquaintance contact. If you’re hemorrhaging time on relationships that don’t bring something special to your life, trim your friend lists.

Improve the quality of your screen content.

Cut down to one social media app, unfollow fake news sources, and reduce your exposure to ad-rich content like beauty guru videos and celebrity news.

family walking on beach at sunsetScreen-free times and activities leads to creativity and enriching three-dimensional play.

Bennett practiced #NoTechTuesday and #NoTechThursday with her family. She says these were her favorite days, because her kids played with their pets, built forts, climbed trees, and got creative. Now that her kids are teens, they sometimes elect screen free leisure activities, which she says is a longterm payoff they’ll always value.

Don’t use screens as a punishment or reward.

It’s important that you become your child’s advocate with screen use rather than their punisher. Although it’s easy to use screens as leverage, don’t do it. If they see you as a screen hater, they’ll quit talking to you about their screen activities. Instead, use practical, smaller consequences like 15 minutes earlier bedtime or an extra chore to do. This is especially important with young children.

selfie As with any lifestyle change, time and practice is necessary for success. Trimming screen time may be difficult, especially for teens. They need you to negotiate slow improvements over time rather than demand lots of changes at once. Don’t expect them to agree at first. The benefits will be revealed over time. That is all part of learning healthy habits, which is not an innate skills and is easier with age. Likes and comments are great, but real connections start with true contact and conversation. Thanks to chad Flores for the valuable information in this article. If these tips were helpful, you can find more in Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe

Works Cited

Dr. Bennett’s book- Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe

Why to Limit Your Child’s Media Use 2016

Photo Credits

Photo by Allie Milot on Unsplash

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

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