Digital detox for kids | Blackmores

Digital detox for kids

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The latest buzzword in tackling tech obsession in children, we look at the whys and how-tos of logging out and hitting refresh on their device use.

Aussie’s collectively check their phones 560 million times a day

Screens and devices are an ever-increasing part of modern life – including our children’s. From homework to streaming TV, gaming, learning through edu-apps, to staying in touch with families and friends, technological advances have provided many benefits. 

According to a 2017 study by Deloitte, Australians are leading the charge when it comes to smartphone use:
  • 88% are proud owners of a device
  • 35% check their phones within 5 minutes of waking
  • 70% use phones during mealtimes with family and friends
  • Phones were checked 80 million times more often than they were the previous year. Collectively this amounts to 560 million times per day, or individually, more than 35 times a day on average

It’s all about balance

The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner notes tech time can enhance learning experiences, creativity, social interaction, entertainment, support in literacy and numeracy skills and improvement in motor skills. 

The flip-side is, if mismanaged, tech use can negatively impact our mental and physical health; including bad backs, short attention spans, declining grades through lack of time and attention on schoolwork, sleeping issues and lack of face to face socialising.

This means it’s important to encourage your children to strike a balance between tech time and getting in enough social activities, academic work, exercise and rest.  
For parents with especially dedicated device users, this can mean making a big break and taking a total time out with a complete digital detox.  

That said, you are likely to meet less resistance if you start small – say “No Tech Tuesdays” that happen over a month or cutting back to an hour a day for ten days.

How much tech time is too much for kids?

While this will vary from family to family the Department of Health lists the following recommendations around daily device use (excluding screen time for educational purposes):  
  • Under 2 years - Babies and toddlers should not watch any television or other electronic media (DVDs, computers and electronic games)
  • 2 to 5 years - Less than one hour per day. Limit their time sitting and watching TV or using other electronic media to less than one hour per day
  • 5 to 17 years -  Less than two hours per day. Limit their use of electronic media for entertainment (i.e. TV, computers and seated electronic games) to no more than two hours per day
Another way to work out if they are spending too much time online is to look out for signs it’s creating a negative impact on their life. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner website lists the following warning signs:
  • Online activities interfering with general health and wellbeing
  • Obsession with particular websites or games
  • Anger when being asked to take a break from online activity
  • Appearing anxious or irritable when away from the computer
  • Spending increasing amounts of time online
  • A declined interest in social activities like meeting friends or playing sport
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Decline in academic performance and failing to complete schoolwork
  • Seemingly isolated or withdrawn
  • Reduced personal hygiene
  • Negative changes in their behaviour
  • Ongoing headaches, eye strain and sleep disturbance
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How to manage your kids' time online

If you’ve decided it’s time for a detox, there are plenty of ways to make it more palatable to your children. 

The first step is to open a dialogue with your children about their use and your concerns. It’s human nature to respond better to change if you have a sense of control over what’s happening, so discussing why you are worried and brainstorming what you can do together is less likely to meet resistance. 

Set a challenge to make it more fun

Challenges are a popular method of behaviour change and are a great way to make logging off a little more fun.  You may want to set a five-day total wifi ban, a hand held device ban, or a “wi-fi free weekend” challenge, for example. 

Andrew Kinch, founder of Game Aware, a program helping teens successfully tackle problem gaming use, has several challenges he sets with his gamers to help cut back their time – and show them how much more value they can get from their time online if they play smarter, rather than longer; or as describes it “turn their habit back into a hobby.” 

A recent challenge he’s added to his program is the Greyscale Challenge. “This is where all their game screens are set to Greyscale – you can also do this on hand held devices if social media, game apps or email are more your focus.

With the gamers in my program, I don’t put any restriction on how much time they can play their games for, on the condition all of it is done in Greyscale only. Because they still have autonomy, I don’t get any resistance to following the challenge, but we find people rapidly curb their tech time because it isn’t as appealing – it’s pretty boring in fact!” 

You’ll need to be more available

One thing to be aware of when undertaking a digital detox is there’s a high chance you’ll need to be more available yourself. Simply removing technology but not recognising that it fulfils a purpose with providing entertainment and even a social life for older children that engage in multi-player games mean the whining will kick in quickly.

You may decide it’s a great week to get to know your local area as a family better – perhaps try a new café or ice cream stop each day. It could also be a great time to set up a board game challenge, teach them to play cards or chess, or get a walking for fitness regime set up.  Or you may plan with other parents and organise some extra play dates.

Do allow a little boredom to creep in though – it’s often when children come up with the most creative ideas (our one-week detox netted us an unplanned new veggie patch, for example - until the dogs dug it up the next day!)

Reset the boundaries for the whole family

Digital detoxes are a great opportunity to reset how the whole family uses technology and create better habits. Some tips for allowing the benefits to extend beyond the detox period?
  • Create a family docking station – all devices being put in a central spot outside of allowed times of usage (this means you too, parents!) – link to parent story
  • Create set times for use – you can spend some of your new free time discussing the hours of use you are comfortable with and negotiating as a family to make them suit everyone’s needs and lifestyle
  • Log in to your internet provider settings and create time slots of use for various devices to make sure everyone is sticking to their agreements
Technology has provided a wide range of benefits to the whole family – academically and socially, but it needs to be handled carefully so ensure the risks don’t outweigh these benefits.

A digital detox, big or small, can help reset the family technology use and create better habits for the future