5 Steps to Forming Healthy Technology Habits

 

Everyone knows today’s kids spend a lot of time in front of different types of screens. What you might not realize is just how much time is being lost to video games, streaming TV and social media sites. According to studies released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, meaning devices outside of work or academia. This level of exposure can lead to addictions, lack of exercise and limited interactions with other people. To help families set appropriate limits on screen time and encourage healthy behaviors, the AAP encourages all families to create a Family Media Use Plan. Here are some things to consider as you develop your plan.

Add, Don’t Take Away
It’s easy to say, “You spend too much time in front of the Xbox. Go do something else.” But for kids who are in the habit of spending all their time in front of screens, this suggestion feels like a punishment instead of an opportunity for a better quality of life. Instead, consider researching fun, enticing alternatives to screen time, like an outdoor activity or new hobby. You can find great walking/biking/running trails in your community (like the 20+ miles of trails in Estrella) at AllTrails.com; scope out rock climbing spots at MountainProject.com; or read up on great places to camp near Phoenix in our recent blog

Set Personalized Technology Limits
After careful consideration, create personalized technology limits for each family member –including the parents. You can set these limits by starting with all the hours in the day and setting time aside first for healthy behaviors, like exercising, sleeping and spending time outside and with other people. Once those hours are blocked off and times are likewise allotted for necessary media use (ie. for work or school), set realistic screen time limits for entertainment media with the leftover time. You can make it easy to track your media usage and create a digital plan using the AAP Media Plan Creator.

Remove or Hide Temptation
It’s hard to adopt good habits, especially if bad habits have been in place for a while. You can make it easier to resist temptation by being strategic with how accessible media is in your home. For example, you can take TVs and computers out of kids’ rooms and have a central place where all cell phones stay at night. Consider having a rule where gatherings, like dinners or family nights, are tech free. Provide plenty of easy-to-access healthy alternatives for fun in your home, like exercise equipment, a family garden or a room stocked with board games.

Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals
To help your family stay on track with your media plan, set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound). For example, a specific goal this month could be to reduce each member of the family’s entertainment media time to two hours a day. Another goal could include spending three hours of time outdoors each week. By setting and tracking your goals, you will have benchmarks to let you know how your revised media plan is going as a family.

Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
“Change takes time,” said Video Game and Internet Addiction Specialist Ann Steel, MD, MA, LMHC. “If your family has not had rules about screen media, or has not made an effort to get the kids involved outside in nature or other healthy activities, try to remember that this is a long-term project. Behavior experts know that it can take two months or more for new habits to become automatic. For kids who have spent most of their day with technology or who have lost interest in other hobbies, many families find it takes four or more months for the child to become engaged in the new lifestyle. But healthy kids are worth the effort!”