Is it time for your kids to have a screen detox? If you’re willing to give it a try, we’ve detailed how you can do it and keep your sanity, just taking screens away will certainly cause a tech tantrum.
You know that too much screen time is making your child irritable, moody, and unable to concentrate on other tasks. You’re feeling guilty and worried about how screens are impacting their health and development. It may be time for a complete break before re-introducing with more strict rules. Many parents are considering doing a complete screen detox – but are scared about how they’ll manage it and whether it will be worth the effort.
For the sake of full disclosure, we’ve only ever done a complete screen detox with my son once when he was about 8. It was for a week. After the second day, I recall him saying that he could literally feel his brain unwinding from the intensity of the games he had been playing. We are super fortunate in that our kids seem to be able to tolerate a fair amount of screen time without being rude or having meltdowns. When I can see we need to peg it back though, our kids are pretty good at co-operating as they know they feel better with a healthy balance. And we’re lucky to be using ScreenCoach to help manage this.
However, many kids aren’t able to tolerate more than a very limited amount of screen time and a complete detox is a great way to reset their brains. Here are some commonly asked questions and my answers to reassure you that a couple of weeks (or months!) screen free will be worth it.
How long until they stop asking for their devices?
It depends on their age and the story you tell them. I am someone who likes to be completely honest with my kids, however, I have heard many parents unplug the TV or put the iPad away and tell their little ones that it is broken. I can definitely see the argument for that explanation to make the adjustment easier. With older kids, I think it is helpful to explain exactly why you’re putting the screens away and be prepared to stay strong when they beg for them to be returned. It is important to keep them out of sight though to not add to the temptation, the same way you wouldn’t keep chocolate in the house if you’re trying to stay off it.
From the families I have spoken to, the first 2 to 3 days is the hardest and then the kids stop asking as they develop new off-screen habits.
How can I make the transition easiest on them?
The best advice is to be prepared with plenty of activities outside of the home, especially in those first two or three days. Take the kids on outings and plan things they can do when you get home. Spend time with them and arrange screen free play dates with friends in the short term as they adjust. If they are older, they can make a list of things they can do to keep themselves occupied. Then gradually allow them to be bored and become creative. Imaginary and creative, unstructured play is critical for healthy brain development. And this can only happen in the absence of other stimuli.
How do you deal with the crying?
Keeping the kids engaged in activities helps enormously. If your kids do cry or get angry and demand the screen, be patient and empathetic and allow them to express themselves. Comfort them and allow them the time they need, then gently redirect them to something else they love to do. Being physically active helps emotions move through the body effectively.
How long until their behaviour improves?
Parents report a marked change in kids’ behaviour around 2-3 days after taking the screens away, sometimes even sooner. One lady said her kids became significantly more calm, patient, and helpful after just two days. Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling and help them to realise the benefits of the exercise.
How and when should I reintroduce screens?
Kids need time to realise they can thrive without screens, and I would recommend at least 2 weeks screen free before considering introducing them again with strict time limits. A month is even better, and you might consider not introducing them again at all for toddlers or younger children. Then introduce them slowly with strict limits using a tool like ScreenCoach to help keep them on track so they don’t end up creeping into every aspect of your life again.
Good luck with it and let us know how you go – come and join our FB group ‘Family Screen Time Strategies’ or support and to share your experience to encourage others.