My intention for 2018: Reducing screen time and tethering to real life experiences

9 tips and tricks for reducing the amount of time you and your kids spend in front of a screen this year

In a year where Facebook was one of the top sources of news circulation and time spent in virtual-reality realms reached an all-time high ($4.6 billion spent on VR in 2017 in the US alone!), nearly non-stop screen time seems almost unavoidable.

Chances are, we all have that friend who can’t get through a meal together without pausing the conversation to check a notification on their phone or respond to a quick text. And it’s not as though I’m writing this from my high-horse - I use my smartphone as an alarm in the morning so often the very first thing I do is scroll through a newsfeed, and my job is to write engaging online content so believe me, I get it.

But despite the increased availability of screens at every turn, another trend is emerging; the desire to truly unplug and disconnect - to experience real life and real connections, not just engage with each other on social media.

Just last week I read a blog by Rachel of Hands Free Mama - an open letter to her daughter about the potential pitfalls of too much screen time which is worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

“First, you need to know what is happening to your brain while on your device. Social media is known for creating algorithms to capture and manipulate our consumption. The goal is to achieve the highest amount of engagement possible. (source) There is even a term for this in Silicon Valley: Brain Hacking. It is having a negative impact on our mental health – especially susceptible are teenagers.

Each time the phone notifies you, you stop what you are doing—whether it’s homework or a job you have to do. What might take you one hour to do, will take you several, and it won’t be completed as well. The inability to focus will reflect in your grades and impact the job opportunities you have as you grow. Spending quality time with friends and family will be impacted by the need to check the phone, making you believe what is most important is on your phone when it is really the person in front of you.

Each time you scroll, you are being influenced by what you see on the screen. Your thoughts and beliefs about what your body should look like or what your life should look like are being shaped. The hidden influence of the internet can create a poor self-image, unrealistic comparisons, and harmful judgements – and you won’t even know it is happening.

But here’s how you take back control:

Tether yourself

To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.

Tether yourself

To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.

Tether yourself

To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.”

Since reading this, and since recognizing my own tendency to reach for my phone far too frequently in a given day, I’ve decided that one of my intentions for 2018 is to reduce the amount of time I spent on social media and to instead, truly be present in the current moment.

I’m optimistic that by loosening the ties of social media will feel freeing, eye-opening, and rewarding. In cutting back on social media, I also plan to reduce other forms of including tv, computer, iPad etc. Given the nature of my role and that so often, screen time isn’t a choice but simply forced upon us (TV’s in restaurants, on the treadmill at the gym, even in the dentist’s office for Pete’s sake!), I know I won’t be able to completely unplug, but am keen to give it a go as best I can.

I spoke with some friends and colleagues about ways they limit their screen-time for themselves and their kids and they gave me the following 9 tips:

  1. Remove all notifications for social media apps. I plan to turn off all forms of notifications for the social media apps, especially the ones that appear when you have a locked screen. No longer do I want to be interrupted or tempted by an enticing notification to remind me to check a comment, picture, or like. Friends say this one has been very helpful (and saves battery)!
  2. “Hide” all my social media apps on my phone. Right now, my go-to social apps live on my home screen, so anytime I open my phone I can easily open one of them and start scrolling. My plan is to move all my social media apps into one folder on my phone, and put that folder way back on the last page. That way, I have to be very intentional about going on social media and I am not reminded as soon as I turn on my phone.
  3. Set limits. I plan to set various limits and rules to my phone use, specifically social media use. A few include “no phone before bed” (hoping it will help me go to sleep earlier!), “no phone before breakfast” (might help get out of bed more quickly), and “no phone at the table” (this one has been set in place for awhile, but important to emphasize).
  4. Create alternate activities. It is so incredibly easy to fall into the routine of nighttime Netflix before bed. TV is so good these days! But niggling in the back of my mind as I catch up with the most recent season of Stranger Things is a feeling that there are better, more life-affirming, real-life things I could be doing with my time. Over the past four months, my husband and I have started taking guitar lessons (me), playing squash (him), taking walks around our neighbourhood, having a weekly dinner + euchre night with our friends, and writing gratitude journals before bed. We hardly have time for TV anymore! Don’t get me wrong - it’s not like we never watch anything (Designated Survivor can’t be missed) but the “real life” activities have certainly helped.

Got kids? They might need help with screen-time rehab too.

  1. Set the example. Now that you’ve implemented your own tricks and tips, it might be a bit easier to model good behaviour for our kids, right?  Children will always gravitate toward the modeled behaviors of their parents. If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. And if they see you watching television, so will they.
  2. Set limited viewing times. Choose appropriate television viewing windows for your kids. It is much easier to limit their viewing habits if they understand that they can only watch one show in the morning and one show after school (as just an example).
  1. Cut your cable / Remove your television completely / limit your wifi. If you want a sure-fire way to limit your child’s television or internet screen time, cut your cable/satellite television feed (or remove your television completely). It’ll help save money on your cable and electricity bills too!
  2. Observe your child’s behavioral changes. Research shows that television and screen time can have an immediate impact on your child’s behavior. After too much television/video games, children can get irritable, aggressive, selfish, and impatient. Be on the look-out for these behavioral changes. When you start to notice them yourself, you’ll be less inclined to put your kids in front of the screen.
  3. Ensure it’s not a punishment, and not a reward. Screen time can be an enjoyable experience, but it shouldn’t be played up as more than that. By using screen time as a reward for good behavior or a punishment for bad behavior, we make it seem more important. Make screen time a “non-event” in your home. Instead, use recognition and encouragement for physical activity and healthy eating with your kids.

And that’s it! As with any New Year’s resolutions, I know it’s easier to accomplish with friends so tell me - are you also attempting to reduce screen time in your life this year? Let me know in the comments or send me a note on Twitter and we can help keep each other accountable.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

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