Is Screen Time the New Junk Food? 4 Tips for a Family Digital Detox

Parenting in the Digital Age

Welcome to 2022, where sixth graders have iPhones and Instagram accounts, a diaper bag now includes a tablet loaded with kids games and YouTube channels, and your eight-year-old probably knows more about your computer than you do.

We’re in the peak of the technology renaissance, and raising a generation that doesn’t know a world without it.

There’s a whole lot of controversy that comes with parenting in a digital age.

If you don’t use parental controls, you’re endangering your child. If you monitor their every move online, you’re being a helicopter parent. If you let your kids use your iPad more than you use your own iPad, you’re a pushover. If you don’t let them use your iPad, you’re strict and old-fashioned.

Just like candy bars, ice cream, and sugary cereals, screens have a bad rap in the parenting world.

Ironically, you can easily find articles shared on Facebook or in the news about how our kids’ might be altered by too much screen time, or prevalent disorders like ADHD or ADD are enhanced by fast-paced video games and video clips.

But, how can we ignore how handy technology can be when it comes to raising kids?

Our kids have a way to contact us if they need to be picked up early or something goes awry. A quick search on YouTube can help calm a fussy toddler in a busy restaurant at a moment’s notice.

It almost seems stupid to neglect technology completely and strip it from our parenting strategy just because some Instagram Mommy Influencer said they weren’t going to let their kid have an iPad.

A New Approach

However, just like the convenience of having technology as a fast solution to seemingly any problem, we have the convenience of freezer dinners, fast food, and prepackaged snacks. After years of endless studies and changing grocery store shelves, we know that these easy options for weeknight dinners or midday snacks aren’t the greatest decisions when it comes to our family’s nutrition.

Parenting in the Digital Age

Finding a middle ground for your family and your relationship with technology is key. For this reason, I’m proposing a new approach to the alternating “love-it, love-it-not” relationship with cellphones and tablets: treat it as if it was junk food.

The family laptop just became a Snickers bar and your “games” folder on your cellphone is now a box of Famous Amos cookies.

I know, I know. It seems crazy, right?

But it’s totally possible, and might help your family’s wifi dependency.

Implementing a Digital Detox

To explain a bit further (and prove that I’m not crazy,) I’ve researched some ways that you can start to make changes in your household. The goal here is to wean your family off of using technology as a reward, bartering object, and chill pill, and destigmatize (and disincentivize, as a result,) screentime.

  • Provide your child’s favorite screen for playtime as an option amongst other fun pastimes. Any time that your kid comes to you complaining that they’re bored, you may have a habit of handing them your tablet or smartphone and letting them play their favorite games. Instead of forking over your technology of choice, create a list of options that you can offer to your kid, including screen time, but with more to it. Some ideas are:
    • Playing pretend – restaurant, store, house, doctor, theater, school
    • Toys or board games
    • Outdoor activities – jump rope, hula hoops, basketball, soccer, tag, capture the flag, sidewalk chalk, water activities (Slip n Slide, sprinklers, or water balloon fights)
    • Arts and crafts
    • Building a fort and watching a movie (perfect for a rainy day!)
    • Books
    • Biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, scootering
    • Going to the pool, park, movies
    • Playdates with friends
    • Karaoke, Zumba/Just Dance games
    • Musical instruments – you can find a teacher in your area or encourage them to explore on their own
    • Sign them up for summer sports or camp

Just like a choice between a bag of potato chips or some apple slices and peanut butter, kids have a healthy choice and a not-so-healthy choice to choose from. However, labeling options as “good” and “bad” creates a stigma that can be dangerous to all involved – ending in overconsumption and idealization of the less-healthy option. By moderating the options you give your kids and putting all foods and activities on even playing fields, you help destigmatize what they know as “good or bad.” When there’s no incentive to choose the bad option, such as saying “you can’t play any more games on the computer until the weekend” or “those games will rot your brain!” you make the choice seem forbidden, making it more elusive and exciting in their eyes.

  • Practice having a good relationship with technology yourself. If you yourself are locked into your social media feeds once all is said and done for the evening, your kid is going to want to do the same. If you’re a frequent poster to Facebook and Instagram, your tween will most likely follow in your footsteps.

    Most articles about using your cellphone less shoot for the stars with large limitations to smartphone usage. These articles are discouraging and make it seem like it’s an all-or-nothing kind of commitment.

    It’s not.

    Making healthier choices in front of your kids that aren’t crazy restrictive diets or eliminations of all the things you enjoy is key in influencing your kid to have a better relationship with technology.

    Many “hacks” to using your phone less reside in the settings of your smartphone.
    Here are some tips on naturally using your phone less, from the Center for Humane Technology:
    • Rearrange your apps so your homepage only features tactical apps (Camera, Maps, Calendar, Calculator, Weather, Settings, Notes, etc.) Move everything else into folders and past the homepage.
    • Only receive notifications from email and social media when real people try to get in contact with you.
    • Invest in an old school alarm clock and charge your phone outside of your bedroom.
    • Throw yourself a social media purge, or go cold turkey altogether. No one is forcing you to scroll through a feed full of people you don’t necessarily call “friends” in real life, so take a moment to mute, defriend, unfollow, and block people who don’t bring you joy. You can find more tips on purging your socials to be better for you on Gizmodo.
    • Download apps like Flipd, Siempo, or Freedom to block yourself from mindless scrolling, prevent distracting notifications and maintain a better focus level.
    • Set your screen to grayscale to remove the colorful allure of social media icons.

  • Monitor your child’s screen time. When your kid does have some screen time fun, you have a say in the apps they use. It’s incredibly easy to set up some basic controls for your tablet or smartphone.
    • Set up Guided Access: Guided Access on Apple devices, located in the “Accessibility” section of Settings, lets your kid use only one app – they can’t access any other apps or click on advertisements within the game. You can exit out of Guided Access by triple-clicking the home button and entering in your 4-digit lock code.
    • Using Restriction Settings: Restriction allows you to block usage for certain apps, data, functions like deleting or downloading, certain types or ratings of content, and others. It is disabled by entering a passcode that can be different from the one used to unlock your Apple device.
    • Disable Purchasing: You can disable in-app purchases and apps like the Playstore/App Store by requiring a password at checkout.
    • Turn off the wifi. Turning off the wifi is a radical, yet foolproof way to ensure that your child only sticks to games on their digital device, and won’t be browsing the internet or streaming videos. The downfall of this solution is that everyone in the house will succumb to the wifi outage!
  • Be involved. When your kid does have some screen time, isn’t doesn’t have to be a sentence of silence for you (unless you want it to be.) If your kid is glued to their tech, download some apps to make screen time a family experience. Some ideas are:
    • Head’s Up! – a guessing game for groups. You can download it on Android or Apple devices.
    • JackBox Games – If your kids are older (or you don’t mind them seeing content made for a bit more mature audiences,) JackBox Games offers hilarious group games that are downloadable on your computer, tablet, or smart TV! Most games are played using your smartphone to connect to the server and respond to questions on the screen.
    • Bloop – a tabletop tablet game reminiscent of Hungry Hungry Hippos, available on iPad.

This summer, work with your family on reducing your screentime and encouraging healthy relationships with technology and food, and let us know your results!

Have any other suggestions for a digital detox that we missed? Comment them below!

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