Our older kids go to sleep away camp each summer where they are “unplugged” from their iPads and phones for several weeks at a time. While they were away last summer, Roy and I decided that we wanted to have a conversation with all three kids and start a dialogue about the use of digital media and electronic devices at home. We did this before the school year began, but any break in the normal routine serves as a good opportunity to rethink your media habits.

Our goal in writing this post is to share the topics that we brought to our family discussion and to encourage you to start a dialogue with your own children. 

What is Your Relationship to Your Devices?

Like many parental decisions, this is a personal one that is influenced by many factors, the largest one probably being our own relationship to these devices. For example, if you need to have your phone with you at all times, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to convincingly model how to have a healthy relationship with your phone unless you are willing to work on your own tech attachments.

Please understand that if this sounds like you, you are certainly not alone. Did you know that Americans check their phones on average once every 10 minutes—burying their heads in their phones 96 times a day? This is up from every 12 minutes (80 times per day) just one year ago! 

The Digital Generation

I am reminded—practically on a daily basis—that our kids are not growing up in the same era as we did. For example, my three kids recently helped me set up a Spotify account and create my favorite 80’s playlist—all in less than 10 minutes!

I then explained how at their age I had to sit with my cassette tape cued and wait patiently for days until I could catch each song played on the radio to make a “mix tape” of my favorite songs. It took longer for me to explain how this was done than it took for them to have all my songs uploaded for me!

For better and for worse, we are living in a digital era.

The Pressures of Social Media

I have written in the past about my feelings about social media and my own process of examining my relationship to it.  It’s not that Roy and I want to shelter our kids, but to help them learn to navigate electronic media from an internalized sense of well-being.

Did you know that the teen suicide rate is up 70% from 2006 to 2016? Two reasons for the increase, experts think, are addiction and the pressures of social media.

If kids (or adults) are addicted to social media or gaming, it means they are looking to media to help them “mediate” and regulate their own experience.

Take selfies, for example. Shooting a selfie releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone that gets released when snapped, shared, commented on or liked. But when out of balance, the quest for the selfie high can lead to a debilitating lack of awareness of the world around you. Selfies are now a growing cause of death and some social media experts refer to selfie-related fatalities as “killfies.”

Your Brain on Information Overload

Both the internet and social media overwhelm the brain with information and by their very nature, feed distraction and create stress.

In the book Mindful Parenting, Kristin Race discusses how brain scans of teens and adults these days look very similar to those of Vietnam Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), with symptoms including difficulty concentrating, hostility, anxiety, and depression.

It’s likely that electronic media is a large contributor to this because these constant “little stressors” are actually changing the patterning of our brains! As practitioners with 20-years each in healthcare, Roy and I have noted the alarming uptick in anxiety, depression and addiction in our youth.

Our goal as parents and practitioners is to be mindful about our own technology usage and to share both the rewards and risks. We want to model how to create a balanced coexistence between our online and offline lives; to explore how to develop boundaries with technology so that we integrate the need for connectivity with the joys of unencumbered privacy.

In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics announced their new recommendations for Children’s Media use:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Those are general guidelines, but every family will need to work out the specifics for themselves.

Points to Help You Start a Dialogue with Your Children

Roy and I brainstormed our talking points that we brought to our family discussion about media use. We chose to share these with you, so that they may help you start a dialogue with your own children.

  • Where do phones “live”? Do they have a designated place in the house or are they carried around on our bodies?
  • Do our phones have volume on? Notifications active? When is this appropriate and when is it not? Who is this appropriate for and who is it not?
  • Do we have media-free locations in our home? Do we allow devices in our bedrooms? At the dinner table? Do our phones come with us into the bathroom?!
  • What is a reasonable amount of usage for us as adults? For each of our kids – age 15, 12 and 9 years? Is usage the same or different?
  • Are their times and places that we chose to minimize/eliminate technology use? In the morning before school? When driving in the car with us? With friends during play dates?
  • Is watching something together as a family different to us than everyone watching separately?
  • Is your phone “yours”? Do we get your password? Put limits on what you view? Track your location? Track your usage? Until what age?
  • Do we allow our kids to have social media accounts? If so, do we help them figure out what should and shouldn’t be shared?
  • What time do devices get turned off at night? Where are they stored at night?

For our family, these points led to a very lively discussion! I am not gonna lie—some tears were shed as well.

We ended our discussion by asking each of our kids to make a list of 3-5 things that they enjoy doing independent of technology.

We make an effort each day to do at least one thing with our kids that offers a tech-free experience. We also wanted to be sure that they got clear about what downtime without technology could look like for themselves.

I’ll end this post with a picture that made me chuckle.

If our attention is distracted, interrupted, and pulled in a dozen different directions, it makes sense that that will also be the quality of our life experience, doesn’t it?!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and how you navigate technology for yourself and your family. Please share your comments below…

Original post date February 2020. Most recently updated October 2021. 

About Debbie Steinbock, HHC

After years of being told that she had an "incurable" chronic health condition, Debbie turned to her diet to help her understand her disease, restore her body, and regain control of her health. Her personal journey has given her the knowledge and compassion necessary to help her clients take an active role in their own healing. Since starting her practice in 2000, Debbie has successfully helped hundreds of people across the country to improve their diet, enhance their current state of health, and eliminate a variety of health conditions.

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