Breaking Free From the Screen: Tips for Getting Kids Off Their Devices
Nowadays, gadgets such as tablets and smartphones have become essential tools for learning and communication. However, it’s a double-edged sword because its entertainment factor can be addicting and children become exposed to irresponsible social media use.
According to the latest data, the average screen time for kids ages 8 to 10 is 6 hours while the average teen spends about 7 hours and 22 minutes per day on gadgets. That’s 38% to 46% of their hours awake!
Since these devices have advantages and disadvantages, balance is the only answer. While this is easier said than done, there are plenty of ways you, as a parent or guardian, can stop your child’s cell phone addiction and reduce your kid’s screen time.
The Adverse Effects of Excessive Smartphone Usage
Smartphone addiction can lead to a myriad of problems in terms of physical and mental health as well as behavior and socialization.
- Physical Brain Changes- Smartphone-related addictive behavior can lead to abnormal brain activity and changes similar to substance abuse addictions.
- Poor Posture- Excessive cell phone users develop poor posture because they have to hunch down to see the screen.
- Obesity and a Sedentary Lifestyle- Smartphone addiction in adolescents promotes a sedentary lifestyle, which can cause a significant decrease in physical activity, a lower muscle mass, and a higher fat mass.
- Text Neck- This is an overuse syndrome caused by looking down at handheld mobile devices. The more that the head tilts forward, the heavier the strain on the neck. For example, a 60° forward head tilt has an equivalent burden of 60 pounds on the neck. Text neck symptoms include neck and shoulder pain, decreased range of motion, headaches, and numbness of the upper limbs.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders- Just like text neck, there are repetitive use injuries of the hand and wrist due to too much cell phone usage. Smartphone finger is a tendinitis caused by inflamed tendons in the fingers. Meanwhile, smartphone thumb can occur due to prolonged and repetitive texting.
- Digital Eye Strain- Children can develop digital eye strain from gazing at their devices’ screens for a long time. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eye, eye fatigue, headaches, and eye itching and redness.
- Migraine- A higher screen time is correlated to a higher risk of migraines in young adults.
- Anxiety- Mobile phone addiction can lead to anxiety due to the fear of missing out (FOMO) and staying out of the loop of trends and the latest issues. They also develop separation anxiety when they’re apart from their cell phone, just like a child’s distress when separated from their mother. Other smartphone withdrawal symptoms include anger, moodiness, and irritability.
- Sleep Disorders- Smartphone addiction can lead to poor sleeping patterns and reduced sleep time. The bright light that gadgets emit activates the brain and makes it harder to sleep, leading to insomnia and fatigue.
- Poor Emotion Regulation Skills- Adolescents using social media for more than 3 hours daily are at higher risk of internalizing problems. Problematic users also tend to self-blame, blame others, and catastrophize thoughts, leading to excessive reassurance-seeking behavior.
- Self-Injury and Suicidal Behavior- Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that adolescents who have excessive cell phone usage are at higher risk of mental distress, self-injury, and suicide, especially among girls.
- Low Self-Esteem and Body Image Dissatisfaction- Adolescents are exposed to the idealized body types on social media, causing them to be dissatisfied with their bodies. This sometimes leads to the development of eating disorders.
- Depression- There is a high correlation between cellphone usage and depression and suicidal ideation.
- ADHD Symptoms- Children who are heavy users of smartphones and other digital devices have twice the risk of exhibiting attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms.
Behavioral and Socialization Problems
- Sensation-Seeking Behavior- Problematic smartphone usage is linked to sensation-seeking behavior or the tendency to pursue risky experiences to feel intense sensations.
- Lacking Self-Regulation Skills- Cellphone addicts are prone to unregulated eating behaviors or anything that feels good.
- Poor Communication Skills- People who spend too much time on their smartphones prefer texting over verbal communication.
- Loneliness and Strained Personal Relationships- Higher screen time means fewer face-to-face interactions. Ironically, the lack of personal interactions increases the need for social assurance, which social media doesn’t gratify, leading to loneliness.
- Impulsive Behavior- Chronic smartphone users are found to have reduced inhibitory control, making them more likely to make hasty decisions that can lead to disastrous results.
- Decline in School Performance- Excessive phone use adversely affects the skills and cognitive abilities students need to perform well academically.
Creative Activities That Can Reduce Your Child’s Cell Phone Usage
Now that you’re fully aware of the possible dire consequences of smartphone addiction, let’s look at the steps that you can take to reduce your child’s screen time.
Go Out on Family Excursions
Take your children on trips and make it fun. Not only will you be able to reduce your children’s solution, but you’ll also be encouraging them to move, experience new things, and bond with the family. It doesn’t even have to be an expensive trip. You can go for a picnic, go to the nearest amusement park, or go camping.
Meet Up with Real-Life Friends
Encourage your children to meet up and stay in touch with their real-life friends. They can simply hang out in the pool, go biking, or play other sports.
Have Fun with 3D Wooden Puzzles
3D wooden puzzles come with a lot of benefits including improved concentration, problem-solving skills, and fine motor skills. Plus, they’re fun and give a sense of achievement once complete. Let your child choose a 3D wooden puzzle that he likes and work on it with him bit by bit.
Take Out Your Board Games
Board games are fun for both the young and old. So, why not get a variety that your family can choose from whenever the mood strikes? Board games are a great way to keep your kids off their smartphones when the weather is bad and they can’t go out. Plus, it can hone your children’s communication skills.
Construct a Marble Run
Bake and Cook with Your Kids
Have a cooking session with your kids. They’ll be able to learn how to cook and eat healthy, making it a great family activity.
Get a Painting Kit
Painting might just be your kid’s new hobby but they won’t know it unless you introduce it to them. So, get a painting kit and paint with your child. You can start by painting the things that you like or one another’s portraits.
How to Prevent Smartphone Addiction in Children and Teens
Here are some tips on how you can teach your children healthy habits that will prevent them from getting addicted to their mobile devices.
Support Your Kids in Finding New Hobbies
As much as possible, be supportive of your kids’ pursuit of new hobbies like playing musical instruments, painting, gardening, drawing, reading, and crafts. If they don’t have the initiative, take the first step in introducing other hobbies to them.
Encourage Them to Take Breaks
Every 30 minutes or so, remind your kids to take a break from their cell phones. They can use this time to take a quick stroll, rehydrate, do some stretches, or rest their eyes.
Teach Your Kids How to Prioritize
It’s important to establish early on that screen time only comes once all their chores and schoolwork are done. This will teach them discipline, responsibility, and the benefits of getting their priorities straight.
Establish a Strict Screen Time Schedule
A screen time schedule will help your children have a sense of routine of when they can use their smartphones or watch TV. It will also help you keep track of their cell phone usage to avoid addiction. Set specific rules such as no screen time 30 minutes before bedtime and no smartphones during mealtimes. Be strict and remember that consistency is the key.
Set a Password or Use a Parental Control App
Set a password to your device so kids can’t use it when you’re not around. For teens, you can install a parental control app on their mobile phones that will let you monitor their screen time, uninstall apps, and set time limits.
Be Critical of Your Smartphone Usage
Be a role model to your children as kids mimic their parent’s behavior. Following the same rules that you establish will also lead to a sense of solidarity and make your children more likely to follow them.
Ditch the Digital Babysitter Approach
Kids calm down while they’re entertained by watching TV. It isn’t messy either, making digital devices such convenient babysitters when you need to do something. However, over time, this can lead to overexposure to digital devices and it’d be hard to get them off it. Instead of entertaining your kids with YouTube, how about giving them an activity to work on while you’re doing chores? If you’re worried about them making a mess, you can always spread out an old worn-out bedsheet that you can easily wash after.
As a parent or guardian, it’s your responsibility to teach your kids healthy habits that will prevent them from getting addicted to their digital devices. Even if your child has already developed this unhealthy addiction, there are still steps that you can take to reduce their cell phone usage gradually.
Remember, what you need are patience and consistency. Even if one method fails, you can always try another. Talk to your child and get to know him to learn what kind of things he enjoys. From there, you can get creative and come up with activities that can get him off his device.