Too much screen time can be bad for kids, but it may also be ruining our parenting skills. Here’s how to change that and become an undistracted parent.
- Written by Genevieve Howland
- Updated on December 09, 2019
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about raising low-media children, which is wonderful. Too much screen time can definitely have adverse affects on our children. Studies show that social media, particularly Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are “worsening bullying, body image anxiety, and feelings of depression and loneliness.” (Source)
But what about parents and screen time?
Just as too much screen time can be harmful for our children, it can also be detrimental for us personally and as our role as parent.
The Pitfalls of Being a Tech Distracted Parent
Injured Children – As smart phones use rose across the country, childhood ER visits increased thanks to distracted parenting, per this Atlantic article.
Disrupted child development – Children are relational, and they look to their parents for language and social cues. And when an interaction with a child is interrupted by a text or scroll through Instagram, it breaks the dialogue and confuses the child.
Distracted Driving – We all know how dangerous texting while driving is. In fact, according to The National Safety Council, 1 in 4 car accidents in the United States are caused by texting and driving and nearly 400,000 injuries occur each year from these accidents. However, how many of us have checked our phones while sitting at a stoplight with the kids in the backseat? The car can be a wonderful time to talk, connect, and even sing with our kids, but that doesn’t happen while we’re scrolling through Instagram.
Time Wasters – The average adult spends approximately 5 hours a day on his/her devices. It takes about 64 seconds to recover our train of thought after checking emails or notifications. If you’re checking your phone or email throughout the day, this adds up to a lot of wasted time!
Sleep Disrupting Light – Our devices emit blue light that disrupts our sleep cycle. While wearing special glasses at night helps significantly, the best solution is to limit our screen time when the sun goes down to support our biology. It’s can be too easy to check Facebook “just one more time,” then end up scrolling the night away.
Memory Worse Than a Goldfish – More screen time means shorter attention spans for kids and adults alike. A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds, however a 2015 study found that on average our attention spans have decreased to a mere 8 seconds!
Less Connected with People and Community – Ironically, even though we’re online constantly interacting with others, our relationships suffer as a result of social media. Because people tend to put only their best foot forward online, honest, deep and enduring relationships are threatened due to the superficiality of social media. We also are forgoing in-person community with online groups, which can lead to more loneliness and isolation. (Source.)
Why is Technology so Addictive?
Dopamine is a chemical naturally produced by our brains that motivates us to seek out certain behaviors, like food or sex. It’s necessary to keep us motivated in life, but it can also contribute to addictions. The instant gratification rewards the brain with positive hormones that we become addicted to. And phone notifications keep the dopamine loop going.
“Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek it more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or new text.” – Susan Weinschenk, PhD
It’s not all bad…
Like many out there, we use social media, the internet, and computers for work. They can be enormously helpful tools for so many things, even family time, if done right.
The issue is when technology takes over our lives and replaces things like reading books, playing with toys, tackling a creative project, using one’s imagination, connecting with others and even experiencing boredom!
Here are some ideas to help you limit your screen time in a way that’s reasonable for you and your family’s lifestyle:
Are You a Tech Distracted Parent? Here’s What to Do About It.
#1 No Phones During Family Excursions
If you’re going with the kids on a family outing like a hike or shopping excursion, leave your phone behind. If you feel like you need it in case of an emergency, then turn it off and leave it in the car. This way the temptation isn’t lurking in your pocket.
#2 Keep Family Dinners Free From Distraction
Make the dinner table a tech-free zone. Engage in conversation as a family whether you’re eating at home or out at a restaurant. Yes, even if you need to wait 20 minutes for your entrees to arrive, this gives you 20 more minutes to engage with your kids (even if it’s just coloring the children’s menu together!). If your family isn’t naturally talkative, try some fun conversation starters as a dinner time game.
#3 Turn Off Notifications
When we hear that familiar “ding” we know that someone has just replied to our post, or a new email has hit our inbox. These notifications trigger the dopamine addiction in our brain. If it’s practical to do so, turn your notifications off. Or keep your phone on silent mode. Then set aside a certain time of the day to check email, social media etc.
#4 Create Tech “Office Hours”
Just how teachers or professionals have “office hours”, create a certain time each day to allow yourself to indulge in your online scrolling. Perhaps, one hour after the kids are in bed. Or right after lunch when kids are napping. Or, if it’s hard to set aside 1 hour per day, break it up into 15 minutes, 3X a day. There are also apps and settings on your iPhone that put time limits on your social media use. The point is, set a beginning and end to your tech use. You can even set a timer to keep yourself accountable!
#5 Get Accountable with a Tech-Free Buddy
Speaking of accountability, find a tech-distracted friend and commit together that you’ll reduce your mindless scrolling. You can check in with each other daily or weekly to stay in check and give each other support and/or ideas along the way.
#6 Put Devices in Airplane Mode
Put your phone in airplane mode. This not only cuts out the harmful EMF signals, but it eliminates distracting texts, calls and app notifications in one fell swoop. If you still find yourself tempted, then put the phone in another room, or up high on a shelf. Out of sight, out of mind.
#7 Downsize Your Device
The trend is to get bigger and bigger with screens, but that may just result in more scrolling and researching at inappropriate times. Consider getting a smaller phone. Something like an iPhone SE is fully functional, but positively puny compared to today’s behemoths. We are experimenting with iPhone SEs in our house as a way to deemphasize screen time.
#8 Consider Screen Time Holidays
Set aside one day a week where you don’t use your phone or tablet at all. See how it feels and notice what you do with yourself those days. You just might start to increasing your time without technology as a result! If a certain social media app becomes too time intensive (I’m looking at you Instagram!), consider reducing the number of people you follow or deleting the app altogether.
#9 Make Your Screen Black & White
Reverting to a black and white screen on your device may help you kick your tech habit. App creators specifically use enticing, bold colors to get our capture our attention, similar to the way slot machines are bright and colorful. Switching to grayscale may cut down on the device’s allure and addictive qualities. (In fact, Tristan Harris a former Google designer, encourages people to turn their phones to grayscale to help reduce usage.)
This tutorial covers how to change an Android device to grayscale, while the one below details how to do the same for iPhone.
SaveAre You a Tech Distracted Parent? Here’s What to Do About It
by Neilson Barnard
What Other Natural Mamas are Doing
- “I’ve done lots of different things at different times. Currently, I keep my scriptures and books to read stack on top of my laptop. I can’t open the computer unless I read something first. For my phone, I keep it charging and have notifications shut off. We also have specific times of day when media doesn’t happen – such as all morning long while homeschooling the 9 going on 10 kids, during meal prep and eating (great time to involve kids and have conversations!), and during the evening we pull out board or card games to play as a family.” – Tristan Row Lee
- “Just got the app Quality Time which tracks ur screen time and u can set it to force u to ‘take breaks’ from ur phone…I love it. Didn’t realized how many HOURS a day I spend on my phone until this app!” – Tanya K. Boern
- “I work from home on my computer. This computer/my work station is set up in the living room so that if my son is up from his nap, I can still keep an eye on him when I’m working (he’s two years old). Though the placement of my work station is convenient for when I’m working, it can sometimes leave me staying at the computer after work hours, mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest (guilty). To combat this, I make a conscious effort that when the clock strikes 5 PM and I am done with my work, I immediately turn the computer off and play with my son. Turning it off right away reduces the chance that I will linger on social media, and then turning away to face my toddler and begin interacting with him makes us both happy.” – Mariah D. Fournier
- “I’ve started listening to music instead of watching tv when I’m doing housework. And I’m also TRYING to designate a phone free time, starting with 1 day each week and building from there.” – Annalena Hastriter
- “No phones at meal time. Ever. We instituted that when I got my first smartphone and realized I was distracted at dinner. Now my husband and I notice that we’re usually the only ones in a restaurant not clutching a fork in one hand and a phone in the other.” – Sarah Foltz
- “My 3 year old is pretty good about telling me to get off my phone lol listen to your kids!” – Christina Grace
- “I ‘save up’ my own screen time for our quiet time or at her bed time. A little in between but not a whole lot unless its messaging.” – Evan Watkins
How about you?
Does your phone distract you from other things you’d like to be doing, including spending time with your kids? What tips or tricks do you use to limit parental media exposure? Share with us in the comments below!