Off Screen: Digital Detox

Off Screen: Digital Detox

Depending on where your family stands with the pandemic, screen-time limits have been relaxed or may have been completely removed during the craziness that was 2020. The initial quarantine that kept us indoors for months encouraged additional household screen-time so everyone could interact with their friends and family members. As we head towards a better outlook, it may be time for a digital detox to help your family shake off the cloud of electronic energy hanging over your home. However, implementing those screen-time limits will not be easy.

The warmer months provide parents an opportunity to have a “digital detox” with their kids.  

This detox consists of no smartphones, no tablets and no video games. Watching a movie or a show through a streaming service is acceptable, when done as a family. Let’s look at how you can make this idea work for your household (without strangling everyone within arm’s length):

Ease Into It The ideal disconnect would last three to five days. Starting your digital detox with that goal in mind may be perceived as a major shock to your environment. It does not have to be, though. Start small by limiting usage during dinnertime a few nights a week. If your busy schedule prevents family mealtimes, look for other opportunities to restrict tech usage for an hour or two. Parents should consider using this strategy for a week or two before pulling the plug for several days in a row. The whole family has been using tech much more than usual for over a year, so go slowly. 

Break From Beeps  Taking a break from the beeps, pings and buzz of social media is something everyone should consider due to the adverse effects it can have on your neural pathways. Certain aspects of social media have proven to be addictive. Various research studies have shown how the brain releases small amounts of dopamine when we receive a like, a favorite, or an upvote on something we’ve posted online. We get a small, short-lived high from how that public, social acknowledgment makes us feel. Also, those likes, tweets and chirps offer a connection to the rest of the world. It is hard to resist taking that quick glance at your phone to see who or what is vying for your attention. As an experiment, try not looking at your smartphone for a short period. Ignore its persuasive pings and alluring alerts. This simple assignment is much harder than you might imagine and it speaks volumes to the need for a family-wide tech disconnect.

Model It  For a digital detox to be effective,  we, as parents, need to model the behavior we want our children to emulate. Show your kids how vital a disconnect can be by putting your device down. Lead by example. As a working adult, you probably won’t be able to cut off your access completely, but you should limit it as much as possible. Imagine a few days without a Zoom meeting… wouldn’t that be glorious?

Plan It  Schedule a few activities with friends to get the kids interacting with the real world. Plan an event like going bowling or bouncing at an indoor trampoline park. COVID restrictions may limit your options. However, creative parents can come up with some socially distant activities. Renting a movie theater for a private group made up of your family and a few friends is a phenomenal (and economical) option. You could consider taking your crew to the library, a museum or aquarium. The goal is to get the kids into an environment where they can experience the real world and interact with it. You know your threshold for exposure, so plan accordingly. 

Dealing with the Fallout  Be prepared for enormous pushback. Taking technology away from kids is a common form of punishment for breaking the rules. Now, you’re limiting its usage for a few days for no reason other than you read it was a good idea! 

Generation Z views the virtual world much differently than previous generations, not detecting a significant difference between the physical and virtual realities. In their eyes, you are isolating them from their friends, community and everything outside of the house. The FOMO (fear of missing out) will drive their adolescent concerns. Your offspring may believe “you’re the worst, meanest parent in the whole world and you don’t care about your kids,” or something like that.  

The best advice is to explain your reasoning to your family with the expectation that it will probably fall on deaf ears.

Teens and young adults often struggle to make smart decisions when it comes to technology use. A digital disconnect can bring out some sneaky behaviors as kids try to find a way to beat the system. Temporarily change the Wi-Fi password or use an app to prevent your children’s devices from connecting to the internet. Most teens will go right back to their old ways when given the opportunity, as social media is a mainstay of how Generation Z communicates and interacts with the world.  

The goal of this disconnect is to show your kids how technology can change personal thinking, moods and behaviors. Use this opportunity to re-establish norms for what is and is not acceptable in terms of screen time. Lastly, pause to reflect as a group before you return them to their digital devices.   

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