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7 Ways to Free Your Family From Excessive Screen Time

How to balance device use and rekindle family unity and closeness.

Key points

  • There are serious psychological, social, and physical risks to children from excessive screen time.
  • Parents can take steps to gain family cooperation and structure a healthy device balance.
  • Healthy communication, modeling, and rewarding positive behavior can help reduce screen time.

Children and teens are constantly attached to devices, intruding on and disrupting quality family time. Research in the Journal of Family Psychology has shown that excessive screen use among adolescence is directly associated with higher levels of family conflict and decreased family satisfaction, as well as other mental health issues (Coyne et al., 2014). Many tech companies intentionally incorporate cleverly enticing “bait” to captivate young minds.

But even with the allure of devices, parents can regain control when they know what to do and how to do it to win over the family to work together as a team and restore healthy communication and connection.

Serious Problems Caused by Extended Screen Dependency

Excessive zone-out screen time can lead to breakdowns in communication, hindered social skills, physical health issues, sleep disturbances, and negative impacts on mental health, cognitive functioning, and a sense of identity confusion.

Research published in the journal BMC Public Health found that excessive screen time among adolescents is associated with an increased risk of poor mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety (Tang et al., 2020). These problems affect not only the individual child but also have profound implications for family harmony and intimacy.

Warning Signs of Uncontrolled Screen Saturation in Children and Teens

Several social psychological studies caution parents to be mindful of warning signs such as a lack of self-control, resistance to screen-time limits, loss of interest in other activities, obsessive preoccupation with devices, social and family withdrawal, insatiable need for more screen time, increased deceptive behavior, and using screens as a mood booster.

Let’s delve into seven powerful and proven tips to help you head off these issues. By implementing these strategies, you can create a healthier environment for your children, strengthen family bonds, and ensure a brighter future for the whole family:

1. Have a Family Meeting to Create a United Action Plan.

Involve your entire family in an open and calm discussion about unhealthy screen indulgence, what it is, and how it happens to all of us. Sit down together, have some snacks and treats, and have a relaxed, honest conversation about the harmful effects of excessive screen time on each person and the whole family.

Encourage everyone to share their concerns and ideas and talk about anyone they know who has real problems with their devices and describe how it hurts them in some way. Read short testimonies or stories or watch YouTube videos of people talking about how their engagement with screen time has messed up their lives.

By involving the whole family, you create a supportive environment and lay a strong foundation for a united effort to bring about change—not just Mom and Dad forcing things with a heavy hand. This can help reduce (to some degree anyway) resistance and rebellion to needed changes.

2. Make a List of “Fun Things We Can Do Instead.”

Collaborate with your children to put together a list of fun, exciting, and engaging activities that they can do alone or with the family instead of being glued to their screens. Include options such as outdoor play, arts and crafts, mini vacations, drive-thru treats, reading, and family game nights.

This will provide them with positive reinforcement with healthy alternatives, so it’s not all about “don’t do this or that” negative deprivation. Rewards change behavior a lot faster and more effectively than threats.

3. Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

Designate specific areas in your home for device storage—such as a charging station or a box within a box within a box (making impulsive use hard) or a locked cabinet.

Keeping devices out of sight reduces the temptation to reach for them mindlessly. It also helps establish clear, agreed-upon boundaries between screen time and other healthy activities.

4. Encourage Meaningful Screen Use.

Guide your child towards educational and productive content on their devices that fosters learning and personal growth. Help them explore age-appropriate apps, games, and websites that can enhance their skills and knowledge. Aim to put off-limits all social media apps for children under 14… if you’re brave enough for the challenge!

5. Model Healthy Screen Usage Yourself.

Children learn by example, so it’s essential to model mature, healthy screen habits yourself. Limit your own screen time and prioritize face-to-face interactions with your family. Make sure the kids see your face with no device in between you and them most of the time. By showing them the importance of balance and face-to-face focus, you inspire and train them to do the same. Never let anyone use devices at mealtime or at night before they go to bed (re-read that one a few times).

6. Do a Weekly Redo Review.

Every Sunday evening, set aside time to discuss that week’s screen time with your kids and listen to their thoughts and feelings. Encourage them to share their experiences and emotions related to how things are going. Does anybody want to confess to sneaking or hiding? By fostering open and safe communication, you create an atmosphere of trust and understanding, leading to cooperation.

7. Block Certain Websites and Apps From All Devices.

Use parental-control software to block access to harmful or unsafe websites and apps. You wouldn’t let strangers or predators come into the house as you diligently guard their little hearts. The web is infested with destructive influences and influencers, and you must keep them out of your children’s lives.

Reducing technological absorption is definitely an achievable goal, although it may take time and effort. By dedicating yourself to implementing the right strategies, maintaining loving patience, and consistently monitoring progress, you can set your children free from the embrace of uncontrolled screen saturation. Remember, the key is to teach healthy usage, not eliminate technology entirely. Finding a balance that promotes overall well-being is the ultimate objective. So, gear up, empower yourself, and embark on this transformative journey of setting your children free from prolonged screen usage, one small step at a time.

Reach out for professional counseling for you and the family if you hit a brick wall in trying to put these steps into action. Sometimes, fresh, professional eyes and ears can do wonders to help you get back in control of the kids and the family.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


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