An Approach to Help Manage the Challenge of Screens

The Tech Happy Life Model is a framework to help with screen balance.

Posted Jul 10, 2018

Hello! As parents, it's a challenge to steer our kids toward a healthy balance with their screen time. In this next episode of my Tech Happy Life YouTube channel, I introduce the Tech Happy Life Model to help with that. In my book with co-author Dr. Jon Lasser, we cover this in much greater detail: Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World. It comes out August 1.

Here is the transcript from my most recent video in which I introduce the Tech Happy Life Model:

Welcome back to Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks. In today’s segment I’m going to introduce the Tech Happy Life Model.

So, my colleague Dr. Jon Lasser and I came up with this model as an organizing framework to help us, as parents, manage the challenges of technology more effectively. We detail it in our book, Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World, but I’m going to introduce it today.

I do want to put in a caveat thought - and that’s this - that life is complicated, and seldom in life are there simple solutions to complicated problems. So, this isn't a quick fix that is going to take away all the problems magically. However, it is a useful tool as an organizing framework for us as parents to manage those challenges of technology. So, without further adieu, the Tech Happy Life Model is based on the Public Health Model. The Public Health Model is (often depicted as) a triangle (or pyramid) with three levels.

The Public Health Model Approach

So, what does this Public Health Model look like with physical health? Let’s take our pyramid with our three levels:

Green - Preventative

You have the Preventative Efforts (as the bottom level, or green level) such as:

These are behaviors we should all be engaging in, and they yield a great return on investment in terms of our physical health and well-being. With relatively little effort they produce great outcomes.

Address Emerging Problems - Yellow

The middle level is the yellow level - emerging problems. (For example), high blood pressure could be treated with diet, exercise, or statins. We have to intervene as a problem is emerging, but we kind of want to nip it in the bud.

Intensive Intervention - Red Level

If we go up one more level to the red level of our pyramid - Intensive Intervention. (For example), clogged arteries - something that requires surgery, and the surgery is literally and figuratively more painful than intervening at the lower levels. That’s our last recourse, and we really don’t want to have to do this, but when the situation calls for it, that’s where we have to intervene.

So - how does this public health model apply to our screen use? Let’s take a use at this model again - we have the three tiers of the pyramid.

A Public Health Approach to Screens: The Tech Happy Life Model

Tech Happy Life Model: Preventative (Green Light) Level

At the bottom we have the green Preventative level.

That might mean things like not giving an 8-year-old a smartphone as their own. It could mean not allowing a teenager to have a gaming console in their room. You want to prevent those problems to begin with so they don’t turn into something significant.

The Tech Happy Life Model: Address Emerging Problems (Yellow Light) Level

The yellow level, the second level, Emerging Problems is where you want to catch problems as they are emerging and intervene at that point. This could mean, with screen use, dipping grades (due to the screen use). (Also, it could mean) staying up late playing Fortnite or being on social media, where they’re not getting enough sleep and grades drop from A’s and B’s to B’s and C’s to C’s and D’s. And you’re like, “Wait, something is happening here - I need to step in!”

The Tech Happy Life Model: Intervene Strongly (Red Light) Level

When we go to the top of this pyramid and we have the red light level Intensive Intervention. This could be when something significant is happening and as a parent you have to really step in and address and intervene more forcefully. The teen might be stealing credit cards to make an in-app purchases. It could be that they’re staying up on weeknights till 3 am playing Fortnite and failing all their classes. It could also mean they’re using screens in a way that could be dangerous - for instance, texting and driving.

So, at this level, parents really need to step in and rein things back in to get in control and (try to restore greater) balance.

The Tech Happy Life Model: The Foundation (Building the Relationship) Level

Now, the Public Health Model is a useful model to think about screen use and how to manage those problems. But my colleague and I realized there is an important element missing, and that’s that’s the foundation of the model. So, we added a 4th level at the bottom. It is the foundation upon which all the other levels rest. And it’s this - the relationships we have as parents with our kids. In a way, our leverage of influence is dependent on the strength of our relationship with our kids. The math is pretty simple. The stronger the relationship with our kids that we have, the greater the influence that we have over them. It doesn’t guarantee that they will listen to everything we say. However, it increases the odds. So it’s critical as parents that we invest in this foundation of the relationship with our kids.

Summary

So there you have the Tech Happy Life Model to help families manage technology use in a balanced way. We have the 4 levels that are shaped like a pyramid.

The Foundation is at the bottom - the most important level - and that’s the Parent-Child Relationship

The next level up we have green, and that’s the Preventative Level.

Yellow is Address Emerging Concerns.

The red level is the top of the pyramid, and that for Intervening when more significant problems are arising.

In the next several segments we will be taking a closer look at the Tech Happy Life Model, level by level. In each of these segments there will be plenty of strategies and ideas that you’ll be able to implement within your family to help achieve a greater balance with regard to screen use.

This has been Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks, and I hope you’ll be joining me for those next segments!