Last year, with schools closed due to COVID-19 and quarantine in full swing, many teens became even more glued to their screens.
In many ways, that was OK: Teens are wired to be social, and social media helped them stay connected to friends. Technology was essential for remote learning.
But screens of all kinds, from smartphones to tablets to televisions, can negatively impact how we concentrate, sleep and enjoy real-world activities. Social media use has been linked to stress, depression and other mental health issues.
So as your teen gears up for a new school year, it may be time to reset their relationship with technology. Here are simple ways to do a digital detox.
Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust?
Sign up for our newsletter.
1. Turn your digital detox into a family challenge.
Group challenges keep everyone motivated – and your teen probably isn’t the only one who needs help unplugging. So have your teen pick a few digital detox goals for the family, and mark them on a calendar to make it official. You can even build in rewards: For example, have everyone log their screen time report at the end of the week, and let the family member with the biggest improvement choose dinner.
2. Turn off push notifications.
Encourage your teen to make a list of what they actually need to know about right away, then turn off push notifications for everything else. The goal is to use their device intentionally, instead of letting every minor alert interrupt real-world activities.
3. Schedule technology-free hours.
Start with just an hour every day, whether that’s morning, noon or night. After a week, tack on another 30 minutes, or set up a second “digital detox” timeframe. (Nights are especially beneficial: Limiting screen use before bed helps with sleep!)
4. Establish no-tech activities.
Make a pact to leave screens behind (or at the very least, keep them dark and silent) for certain activities. For example, promise to avoid phones when socializing with family or friends, enjoying a meal, or spending time in nature.
5. Create digital detox zones at home.
Maybe there are no screens allowed at the kitchen table, or on the couch, or in your teen’s bedroom. Be consistent about this, and your teen will start to associate the space with real relaxation
6. Plan ahead for screen-free family fun.
Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a new one. If you’ve carved out digital detox times at home, plan family activities to fill them, like a puzzle hour, game night or cooking together.
7. Brainstorm replacement activities.
At first, your teen might feel at a loss without their screen, even for just a few minutes. So even before kicking off a digital detox, have them create a short list of some tech-free activities that they enjoy doing on their own, like going for a walk, doing yoga or reading a book.
8. Focus on detoxing from social media or certain apps.
If your teen finds that they usually feel worse after scrolling through Instagram, or stay up way too late playing Fortnite, try deleting the problem app altogether, or at least setting time limits. (There are apps available to track usage – but pen and paper work too!)
9. Keep screens out of sight.
Researchers say that even having a phone in the same space can chip away at our concentration – it’s known as “the iPhone effect.” So make your teen’s digital detox easier by choosing an out-of-sight drawer, bin or cabinet to store technology when not in use.
10. Switch to analog.
Is your teen a reader? Studies show that it’s easier to relax and focus when reading a printed book, newspaper or magazine instead of an electronic version. Does your teen use their phone to keep track of time? Try an old-fashioned alarm clock and watch instead, and they’ll automatically cut down on how often they check their phone. Small changes add up!
Start small, set limits and celebrate progress.
Sure, it may not be realistic for your entire family to lock their screens away for a week-long digital detox, or even 24 hours. But even a few of these mini digital detox techniques will help your teen and family create a healthier relationship with technology – and you can build from there.