For What's Ahead Blog

Four Easy Tips to Reduce Family Screen Time

Posted by Martha Metzler, Upper School Counselor on May 16, 2018 11:45:15 AM

The world has been taken over by devices designed to make our lives easier and communication faster. Look at any group of teenagers sitting together: odds are they have their heads bent over their smartphones. Adults aren’t much better. We keep our phones on the table at restaurants and in meetings and sleep with them beside our beds at night. Is this technology really helping us, or could it be doing harm?

Devices have their place and their usefulness, but overusing a phone or any device with a screen has real dangers, including:

394A3099Poor sleep

Studies show that devices negatively impact sleep and prevent us from reaching the deep REM stage. Experts recommend not keeping phones by your bed and powering down ALL screens at least one hour before bedtime.

Addictive behavior

When you use a device, FCDS Upper School guidance counselor Martha Metzler says, it releases dopamine just like any other addictive activity. Kids are especially vulnerable, because they feel this stimulation of the brain’s pleasure center more than adults do.

Poor self image

Using devices – especially to look at social media sites – actually makes us feel bad about ourselves. “Whether it’s Pinterest mom-guilt or a teenage girl who sees pictures of a swimsuit model who knows how to pose and use filters, it affects self image and body image,” Martha says. “It makes us compare our lives to someone else’s highlight reel.”

Messy social interactions

“Devices are cheating kids out of awkward conversations, like asking a girl out or having to apologize to someone face to face,” Martha says. “They need these messy social interactions to learn to resolve conflict in a healthy way.”

Here are some easy tips for all families to reduce screen time:

  1. Create a charging station in your house that is not in anyone’s bedroom. Studies show that keeping your phone charging next to your bed at night leads to sleep deprivation and even prevents you from falling into restorative REM sleep. Establish a docking station in the kitchen or home office where family members dock their phones at night and don’t check them until morning. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy a real one instead.
  1. No phones or devices during meal times. Having real conversation with your family, friends, and colleagues is invaluable.
  1. Keep your phone out of sight while driving. Place your phone it in a bag if having it on the passenger seat is tempting. Somewhat counterintuitively, there are even apps for this that will send automatic responses to anyone who texts you while you’re driving to let them know that you can’t respond at the moment. Two to try: Cell Control and Drive Safe Mode.
  1. Establish a household phone/device curfew. Have each member of the family dock their phones on the family docking station by a reasonable time (such as 10:00 p.m. or earlier if you have younger family members). You can even establish “tech-free” family time on a weeknight or weekend day when all family members dock their phones and you spend time together screen-free. Bring back family or friend game night!

What suggestions do you have to get your family to unplug? Please comment below.

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