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4 Signs Your Child Needs a Digital Detox

What’s inside this article: A look at what experts currently recommend for screen time limits for kids, signs your child needs a digital detox, how electronics affect social-emotional skills and behavior, and tips for breaking bad screen time habits.

As technology is rapidly evolving, avoiding screen time is virtually impossible. Almost everything in our society is digitized now. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – actually, 15 years from now, experts estimate that 65% of jobs will be tech-related jobs that don’t even exist currently. 

So, it may not be the way you grew up, but as technology advances, it will play a significant role in your child’s future career and life – so having screen time now isn’t something to consider a problem. 

How much screen time should kids have?

Sometimes, it’s hard to decide how much screen time is appropriate for children and how/if you should limit their use of electronics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually revised its screen time recommendations in 2020.  

They used to suggest that children have no more than 2 hours of screentime per day. However, that’s changed significantly. 

For young children (5 and under), the recommendation is to limit screentime to educational activities and programs only. 

For older kids, it’s not so much the amount of time that matters; it’s their habits surrounding screen time. 

It’s a good idea to restrict electronics during the hour before bedtime, for example, or while eating dinner. But a time limit may not be necessary.

Restricting Content

Parents don’t always know what their kids are viewing – a parental control app can help you monitor and restrict the type of content your child views.

Some things to look out for:

  • Cyberbullies and online pradators
  • Sexual content
  • Misleading and inaccurate information
  • Videos with violence, substance abuse, and/or dangerous “challenges.”

Does Your Child Need a Digital Detox?

In certain situations, excessive media use may lead to behavioral and emotional problems.

If this is the case, taking a break from electronics may be beneficial to your child.

  • Power Struggles. If your child argues every time they’re asked to turn off the TV or get off the phone, they may need a break from electronics altogether. I always give them time to finish what they’re doing on their devices – but when it’s time to eat supper, do homework, shower, etc., it shouldn’t be a fight. 
  • You need to break some bad habits around technology. What you consider a bad habit will vary from family to family, depending on your personal values. Some examples may be watching TV during dinner, texting each other from the room, sleeping with your phone, or not getting enough physical activity.
  • Sleep & Behavior Problems. Too much screen time can cause sleep troubles because exposure to blue light in the evening can alter your body’s natural sleep and wake cycle. Also, behavior problems like waking at night and sneaking electronics, not completing homework or other responsibilities because all time is spent on electronics, or unsafe behavior online may mean it’s time for a break.

Does Screentime Cause Behavior Problems?

Researchers continue to study how screen time influences child development and behavior.

Although some studies found links between behavior problems and screentime, there is no evidence to suggest screens cause bad behavior. 

It’s more likely that unhealthy habits surrounding technology use are impacting behavior, as mentioned above. Basically, using electronics can interfere with homework, responsibilities, and even social life, if there aren’t clear and consistent boundaries.

Social and Emotional Skills

Researchers at UCLA discovered that a digital detox improved kids’ abilities to read others’ emotional expressions.

Why?

Not because electronics cause poor social-emotional skills, as some people believe. But, because spending time face-to-face with peers is essential for developing strong social and emotional skills. You can have both as long as there’s a balance. 

The researchers concluded that unplugging for short periods of time to increase face-to-face interaction can help children better understand nonverbal cues.

If you’re actively working on your child’s social skills, planning screen-free activities is one way to help them practice their skills. 

Breaking Bad Screentime Habits

Parents are just as likely to have (and model) bad screentime habits as kids are.

Most of us have our phones in our hands all day long. How many times a day do you check social media?

One way to break some of these habits is to commit to being screen-free at certain times of the day – for example, at dinner time or the last 1-2 hours before bedtime. Use that time as quality time with your family, or add a wind-down hour to your bedtime routine.  

These blocks of screen-free time in your day create an opportunity for you and your children to develop new habits without putting a time limit on electronics.

Strategies for a Digital Detox

If you think your child needs a digital detox, you don’t necessarily need to confiscate the electronics or turn it into a punishment.

Try these simple strategies for creating a digital detox:

  • A Digital Free Day – Choose one day of the month that will be a quiet, screen-free family day. Make this day fun, spending quality time together without using electronics. This day can be something that everyone looks forward to. Plan family activities like hiking, swimming, going for a scenic drive, playing board games, etc. 
  • A week-long break from electronics  If you can, take a family camping trip and leave the electronics at home. Or plan a staycation together.
  • An electronics-free weekend – Similar to the digital free day, you can plan a whole family weekend a few times a year, spending time together away from electronics.

It may be interesting to see if/how these small breaks change your child’s mood and behavior. Some parents, especially if they’ve been having power struggles with electronics, see significant behavior improvements after a digital detox. 

For others, if electronics weren’t getting in the way of other expectations, limiting their use isn’t likely to change anything.


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