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Helping Families End The Fight

Treating Screen Time as “Addiction”

    In the previous blog posts, we talked about easy you can start to cut back on screen time without going clod turkey. Today let’s get real, screens are highly addictive and the chances are your kids and perhaps even you have crossed the line. Here’s a strategy for getting “clean”

   We have already covered where and when you just don’t want screens, areas where other things need to be a priority. We also covered five quick tips for reducing screen time. Chances are you either wrote those off as something you did not need and did not try OR tried and had little if any success. If that’s you, then this post is the next step for you and your family.

Pandemic & Coping

   The pandemic has been the opportunity for all kinds of less than effective coping strategies to emerge. In the beginning, we all let go a little and gave in to some stress eating, and five to ten pounds later realized this is not sustainable. In the same way, there has been a massive relaxation of screen time boundaries for everyone’s sanity and now we need to scale back. Screen time is a lot like eating in that we and our kids will continue to have virtual school/work and at the same time it is so easy to go over the edge with it.

Your Brain on Screen

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    Screens affect all of our brains. Screens are actually a form of sensory deprivation and continuous use leads to lower brain activity over time. In adults and children, screens stimulate and inhibit sleep. Screens and apps can be addictive to all ages, dominating our emotional state and driving us to seek more and more online experiences (at the expense of real-life) so that we continue to stimulate our brain’s pleasure centers artificially. 

    The issue is as much screen time as screen quality. If we are liming our kid’s screen time and all they are using their screens for is to stimulate their pleasure centers through junk apps, the core problem still exists. What we need to attack is the quality of the screen experience itself. We need to go not only on a time diet but make sure that the diet is quality screen time rather than “junk” screen time.

Making the Change

  It takes at least 30 days to begin to change a habit, 90 days to really ingrain it. Just as putting boundaries and limits on our screen time were new habits, shifting to quality screens will take time as well. Now remember, like any addiction, you will be wrestling with denial, and there will be backsliding from time to time. Recovery can be two steps forward one step back experience as long as in the end we are actually progressing.

First Steps

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    Have a conversation with your kids about screens, how they can be positive, how they can hurt. Give them a metaphor they can sink their teeth into like the food metaphor for example. Help them understand why it’s important to you and might be to them. Talk about all the related issues like comparing how we feel on the inside to the exteriors people project through social media, cyberbullying and where that stands in your values, the distinction between positive and toxic tech. If you’re not doing so already, look for ways you can limit your kid’s access to age-inappropriate apps and sites. Make sure your kids understand that there are real emotional risks to toxic tech. Toxic tech drives higher anxiety, depression, and even suicide in young people.

Accent the Positive

   Highlight positive tech, tech that drives personal growth and development. Be involved in your child’s tech use and consumption. Challenge your child to take small risks in learning through tech, it might be creating video, or writing, any creative work that can be done through screens particularly while we are still quarantined. Encourage healthy and meaningful connections, not everything on social media is negative, help your child to negotiate the positives and the negatives. Last of all, just like you will reward your kids with dessert when they eat what is healthy, allow them to indulge a little with their screen when they have been on a mission. The idea is to maintain balance.

When To Start

  Spring is coming and with it the return to outdoor life. The time to start is now so that it will be easier to peel your child’s eyes off of their screen when the opportunity to do more outside of the house comes up.

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