Getting Your Kids Unhooked from Their Smart Phones

“Setting guidelines around kids’ tech use starts with the habits and conscious choices of parents,” says Mark Bertin in his recent article on Mindful.org. His tips will help you and your family to be mindful with your tech.

Why We’re Concerned about Too Much Tech Time

Parents intuitively know that they’d like to spend more device-free time with their families, but many of them find it difficult to enforce limited-screen-time policies. Research confirms parent’s concerns, showing that children spend on average seven hours a day looking at screens. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero time for children younger than 18 months, only 1 hour for kids ages 2 – 5, and 2 hours total time for older kids.

Developing Executive Brain Function

Only 2 hours of screen time daily may seem like a draconian punishment for many children, but parents will do well to remember that their kids lack the developmental wisdom to self limit. As Bertin reminds us,

Kids don’t want to hear that outside of homework too much screen time actually impacts healthy development. However, since children lack mature executive function, cognitive skills required to manage life like a grown up,  wise decision-making around screens remains limited until they learn better. As strong a pull as children feel, healthy technology use relies on parents.

Just think of how easy it is to “get lost” in our own devices with our fully-developed adult brains. Then, think of our young people, whose executive functions for managing attention, prioritizing, planning, controlling impulses, and considering the future are not fully developed. It’s easy to see that limiting their own device usage might be nearly impossible. 

Some Negative Effects of Phone Addiction

Bertin is quick to point out that “well-moderated phone activities may augment learning, but hundreds of studies show that when devices drive their own use, consequences follow.” Examples include:

  • Short- and long-term attention and executive function suffer. 
  • Sleep becomes disrupted.
  • Screen time can interfere with language, communication, and other forms of social engagement. 
  • Screen time breeds behavioral difficulties. 

Ways to Be Mindful with Your Tech as a Family

Consider Bertin’s observation that “wherever technology helps, educates, or entertains in a balanced way, that’s perfect. When its use is driven by boredom, fear, or compulsion, mindfulness means pausing and redirecting our behavior.”

Tips for Mindful Screen Time:

  • Start with yourselfchildren learn an awful lot just from watching their parents.
  • Parents decide how muchwhat percentage of unscheduled down time goes directly to a screen?
  • Parents decide when.
  • Parents monitor content. 
  • Remember that screens are a privilege, not a right. 
  • Make active choices – awareness is the core of mindfulness, stepping from autopilot into active decision-making.

Mindfully yours,

Dr. Pamm