Today’s technologies allow parents and teens to stay in constant connection. Don’t need a ride home anymore? Send a quick text. Need directions, advice, or someone to hear you out? Give a call. Whether they are living in the same house or different countries, parents and teens can see each other instantaneously though Skype and FaceTime.
But the same devices that keep us connected to our loved ones may also be hurting our relationships with ourselves and those around us. According to the Child Mind Institute, experts fear that too much technology might actually be “promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.” Plus, constantly texting or checking social media–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, you name it–can be extremely distracting. And with 8-18-year-olds consuming an average of over 7.5 hours of media per day, family, friends, teachers, coaches, and employers are all competing for precious screen-free time with teens.
As it turns out, teens aren’t just glued to their phones, laptops, and tablets because they’re trying to keep up with what their friends are doing or what’s trending on social media. The teen brain is flexible, allowing it to adapt effortlessly to new technologies. And the teen brain is easily stimulated by technology, as it taps the brains reward system. Therefore, it will take extract practice or intent to de-excite the brain through meditation, relaxation, and visualization. When the brain is calm it can reflect, restore, and create.
But, as parents, teachers, and tech-junkies themselves realize, checking out of technology and into a state of screen-free awareness is much easier said than done! One way to de-excite is to designate “screen-free” zones or times. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents create “screen-free” zones at home and make sure the TV is shut off during dinnertime. The AAP suggests children and teens engage with entertainment media for no more than two hours per day.
Another way to de-excite the brain and foster relaxation, mindfulness, and even improved social cognition is for teens and families to go on a screen-free diet. That is, unplug from technology for 7 days. In a recent study, published in the Computers in Human Behavior, when compared with adolescent participants who maintained their usual tech habits, those who went screen-free for a week while at an outdoor camp showed significantly improved recognition of nonverbal emotion cues. Although our screen habits may be deeply ingrained, it’s promising to note that a week spent away from screens can have immediate effects.
Tips for Going Screen-Free
Make small changes. Encourage teens to leave their phones in their room at dinnertime, and ask your family to do the same so you can have dinner conversation without distraction.
Spend time alone (without your phone!). Encourage teens to spend even just a half an hour per day truly disconnected. Join them! Shut off your phone, play a sport outside, read a book, practice yoga, draw, or write.
Be present. Practice mindfulness. Encourage teens to take a break from multi-tasking, to chew their food without simultaneously scrolling through their phone. Model behavior! Instead of texting, call a friend. Go for a walk with a friend or family member and leave your phones behind. It might take some getting used to, but when you unplug a little bit, you can finally reconnect.
- Child Mind Institute – When Should You Come Between a Teenager and Her Phone?
- MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds – Do As I Say, Not As I TXT: Tips For Parents To Manage Technology Use At The Dinner Table
- Elements Behavioral Health – Helping Your Kids Unplug