Digital Detoxing for Parents & Kids

Digital Detoxing for Parents & Kids

Ever feel like you’re all too glued to screens? 

When you glance up from your screen or chores, do you see your family members isolated in their own digital worlds? 

Does it make you think your family might be ready for a digital detox?

You're not alone. Parents everywhere are concerned and not quite sure how to put the tech toys back in their boxes.

Good news: Unplugging is easier when the sun starts shining. In fact, spring is the perfect time to rethink our digital habits and get back to nature. 

Here’s the scoop on why and how a digital detox can reboot your family’s wellness and make this season unforgettable for you and your kids. Plus, get tips on making and sticking to your digital detox goals.

What is all that screen time doing to us anyway?

kid touching grass

Have you ever heard your kid use the slang term "touch grass”? If a friend is really into video games, for example, they might say, “He doesn’t touch grass.” If you’re lucky, your kid might say, “Mom, I need to touch grass” because they want to get offline and go outside.

The fact that this “touch grass” joke exists is telling! Kids are living lives indoors like never before. Some blame the pandemic because it forced us online like never before. Others say it started way before, with the invention of the iPhone!

The fact is, it’s all too new to know the true effects of an online life on kids. But we know it’s making an impact.

For kids, too much screen time can lead to:

  • IQ Interference: Kids’ brains are like sponges, soaking up everything. Too much screen time can mess with their attention, imagination, and even how they chat and play with others.
  • EQ Interference: When kids are face-to-face with screens and not with other humans, they’re losing out on experience developing social skills (and even language skills)! Some kids are even more isolated than ever because they’re not out playing with other kids.
  • Couch Potato Syndrome: Kids glued to screens are kids glued to the spot. The only workout they’re usually getting is a finger and thumb workout! 
  • Ferocious Fatigue: Screens are SO stimulating that it’s hard even for adults to unplug and get some rest. Over time, this sleep deprivation takes a toll.
  • Mood Swing Central: Ever seen a kiddo go from zero to grumpy in no time? Screens affect kids’ moods in a way we’re only beginning to understand.
  • Skewed Perspectives: The online world can give kids a very unrealistic idea of the world! It’s shaping how they see themselves, too, and not always in a good way!
  • Nature Deprivation: Kids who don’t touch grass (or snow, or sand, or dirt) miss out on the mood-boosting effects of being in nature.

For parents, too much screen time results in:

  • “Tech Neck” & Slouch Effect: Being hunched over a screen is bad for the back and the neck. We’re even seeing new wrinkle patterns in adults because of this persistent posture issue!
  • Eye Strain: Staring at screens (especially too close) for hours on end can lead to achy eyes.
  • Stolen Sleep: If you’re getting fewer hours of rest and finding it harder to fall asleep at night, screens may be the issue!
  • Comparison-itis: Too much time on social media can distract us from being grateful for what we have! And we want to model gratitude as parents.
  • Social Deprivation: Neglecting real-life relationships for time online? It happens, and it’s not great for our well-being!
  • Missed Goals: As a parent, you’re already strapped for time! When screens suck us into endless scrolling, the fact is that we’re less productive. If you want to tick off those resolutions, you might have to set down the screens.

Yikes, right? But let’s face it, screens are everywhere! So, let’s talk about how we can achieve a healthy balance in our increasingly digital world.

Is all screen time equal?

Kid with tablet


Think of it like food: some screen activities are like your nutritious veggies, while others are more like junk food. 

Let's break it down:

  • Educational vs. Passive Consumption: Educational screen time, like watching a documentary or using an interactive learning app, can be beneficial. It's like feeding your brain a healthy salad. On the other hand, mindlessly scrolling through social media or binge-watching TV shows for hours is more like snacking on chips – not much nutritional value for your brain.
  • Creative vs. Consumptive: Engaging in creative activities on screens, like digital art, coding, or writing, is like making a delicious, home-cooked meal for your mind. It's productive and fulfilling. Just passively consuming content, however, doesn't flex those creative muscles.
  • Social Interaction vs. Isolation: Using screens to stay in touch with friends and family, especially in a mindful and balanced way, can be wholesome and supportive, like a nice family dinner. But if screen time leads to isolation and reduces face-to-face interaction, it can be like eating alone – it might fill you up, but it’s not as satisfying.
  • Active vs. Sedentary: Activities that require physical movement, even if it’s a dance-off on a gaming console, are like a good workout. But prolonged periods of sitting and staring at a screen can be like lounging on the couch all day – not great for physical health.
  • Daytime vs. Nighttime Use: Using screens during the day, ideally with breaks, is generally okay. But using them right before bed, especially if it’s non-relaxing content, can mess with your sleep – kind of like having a double espresso right before hitting the pillow.

Like a balanced diet, a balanced screen diet is key. Mix in some educational, creative, and socially interactive screen time, and try to keep the passive, sedentary scrolling as more of an occasional treat!

The perks of unplugging (for kids and parents, too!)


It’s great if you can shift the balance, but most of us also need to reduce total screen time as a family. Less screen time means more family time, better sleep, and more movement.

You might even find that you make more plans with other families, hang out with neighbors, and get more involved in community activities.

Maybe you’ll start hobbies again or read more books. Imagine the joy you’ll feel seeing your kid immersed in a great book or creating something!

Family bike rides, walks, sports… When you carve out time away from screens, you can touch grass and get those good vibes from being active outdoors.

Short of ideas? Here’s an inspiring list of activities you can do with kids in nature.

The fact is, you could use some of that newfound time for regular life stuff, like chores. Instead of doing it all yourself while your kids are online, you can get them involved. Research shows that kids who do chores turn out to be happier, better-adjusted adults. (Even if you have to suffer through excuses and complaining, which is totally normal!)

Less screen time can lead to better mindfulness and wellness. It’s about enjoying the moment and the world around us.

Setting realistic digital detox goals

Next up, you’ll need to set digital detox goals that feel right for your family.

Setting realistic screen time limits for families can be like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. What’s “just right” for one bear is too much for another. 

Plus, your family circumstances are unique! Your job or other responsibilities may make it difficult to stick to the “ideal” screen time limits. So, don’t judge yourself if the guidelines are ambitious for you right now.

When you know the guidelines, you can use them as a target to work towards.

  • Preschoolers (Ages 3-5): Try to cap screen time to about an hour a day of good programs, like public TV children’s programming. Again, co-viewing is important, so you can help them understand what they're seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • School-age Children and Teens (Ages 6-18): It gets a bit trickier because schoolwork often requires screen time. The key is distinguishing between educational screen time and recreational screen time. A reasonable limit could be 1-2 hours of recreational screen time per day, but this can flex depending on day-to-day activities and educational needs.

10 tips for winning at your family’s digital detox


Limiting or cutting off screen time can feel like trying to resist a plate of cookies! You’ll be more successful if you have a goal, strategy, and if the temptation is out of sight!

Here are some practical solutions:

  • Set Clear Limits: Start by establishing specific screen time rules. For kids, this might mean setting a daily or weekly screen time budget. For adults, it might involve designated screen-free times, like during meals or an hour before bed.
  • Tech-Free Zones: Establish areas in the home where screens are a no-go, like bedrooms and the dining room. This can help promote better sleep and more quality family time.
  • Use Screen Time Apps or Tools: There are apps and settings (like Apple's Screen Time or Google's Digital Wellbeing) that let you monitor and limit screen time. These tools can help you (and your kids) stay aware of how much time you're spending on screens.
  • Model Good Behavior: Kids imitate what they see. If they see parents constantly on their phones, they're likely to follow suit. Setting a good example by limiting your own screen time can be powerful.
  • Plan Non-Screen Activities: Remember that you’re not just taking something away! When you limit screens, have a plan to reward yourself and your family with feel-good activities. The list is endless: board games, outdoor activities, reading, crafts, and cooking.
  • Consistent Tech Timeouts: Have periods during the day when everyone puts their devices away, like during family outings or on Sunday afternoons.
  • Encourage Other Interests: If your kids show interest in a non-screen activity, fan that flame! Whether sports, music, art, or something else, encouraging these interests can naturally limit screen time.
  • Earn Screen Time: For kids, make screen time something that's earned through chores, homework, or other positive behaviors.
  • Be Consistent and Communicative: Explain why limits are important. Rules are more likely to be followed when they are clear, consistent, and accompanied by a reasonable explanation.

Remember, cutting off screen time doesn't mean going cold turkey – it's about finding a healthy balance and ensuring that our digital life doesn't overrun our real life!

Teaching kids to unplug on their own


Teaching kids to self-regulate their screen time is like teaching them to ride a bike. At first, they'll need training wheels and a lot of guidance, but with time and practice, they can learn to do it on their own. 

It's definitely possible, and here's how you can guide them:

  • Start with Open Conversations: Discuss the importance of balance and why too much screen time can be a downer for their brains and bodies. Make it a dialogue, not a lecture.
  • Involve Kids: Create your media plan together. When kids have a say in the rules, they're more likely to follow them. The same goes for tech tools! Initially, you might use parental control tools to help manage their screen time, but gradually, let them take over the responsibility.
  • Teach Time Management: Help them understand the concept of time. You could use timers or alarms at first, then encourage them to start monitoring their own time.
  • Reward Responsible Behavior: When they show they can manage their screen time well, acknowledge it. Positive reinforcement can be a great motivator.
  • Encourage Awareness: Ask them to think about how they feel after a lot of screen time versus other activities. Talk to them about the benefits you’re seeing when your family or your kids to non-tech activities. For example, point out how strong, fast, or skilled they’re getting. When you do, you’re helping kids develop self-awareness that can lead to better self-regulation.
  • Understand Individual Differences: Every child is different. Some may need more guidance, while others might quickly grasp and appreciate the value of unplugging.

With patience, consistency, and encouragement, kids can definitely learn to manage their own screen time. It's all about equipping them with the right tools and understanding and then stepping back to let them try on their own. 

Start as early as you can when your kids start using screens. By the time they have their own devices that they carry around to keep in touch with you, they’ll be more skilled at enforcing their own limits.

Remember, a few stumbles are part of the learning process! You’ll be grateful you taught them screen self-regulation because it’s a skill that'll help them big time in the long run.

Your family, your adventure


Every family’s digital detox will look a little different, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you’ve decided to unplug and reconnect with each other, “touch grass,” and live life off screens!

Need More Info?

Check out these resources for more tips and local activities that can help kickstart your family’s digital detox journey.

  • Healthy Screen Habits: Access books, expert interviews, podcasts, and tools on a range of topics related to screen time. Get insights and strategies to make informed decisions and create healthy digital habits​​.
  • Internet Matters: Get advice tailored to kids by age group, from pre-school to teens. Learn about setting device controls, managing social media, and more. 

Happy unplugging, and here’s to a fantastic spring and summer ahead!

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