Digital Detox: Turn off Your Devices For More Mindful Family Time

Picture your family sitting around the dinner table after a busy day, enjoying a healthy home-cooked meal. You’re looking forward to catching up on the day’s events, engaging with your children, and hearing about their adventures.   

If you’re reading this, you probably consider yourself a modern mindful parent. You aspire to be “in the moment” by engaging in intimate conversation with your loved ones! But looking around, you realize everyone’s staring at their smartphones or tablets: the kiddos are snap chatting with friends from school. Perhaps your partner, husband, or wife is reading an email, or scrolling through their Facebook feed.  And you, yourself, even feel that “itchy trigger finger” to pick up your iPhone. 

What should be high-quality family time can sometimes start to feel more like a ride on the commuter train; everyone siloed in their private digital world, with very little conversation or eye contact. The kitchen table becomes a topographic map of disconnection. 

Sound familiar?  For months, this was the situation around our dinner table, until, frustrated by my 13-year old son’s monosyllabic responses to questions about school, life, and his friendships, I realized that it was time to do something. It was clear that he wasn’t present, and my passive acceptance of his phone use during meals was a big reason why. 

“Don’t you think it would be nice to talk?” I would lamely say. “Why don’t we put away the phone during our meal time.” 

“Dad, I’m just texting with my friend / watching this Youtube video / making plans with my girlfriend,” he would respond with a roll of his eyes. As if it was both crazy and inconsiderate for me to suggest we actually talk over dinner.  But I had to do something.  A few hours of research led me to some very specific suggestions for implementing a “digital detox.”    But first, the bad news: 

While there’s still some debate, there’s nonetheless a documented linkage between excessive screen time (the catch-all phrase for using devices) and the health and well-being of young people.  While digital devices have improved our lives in many ways, researchers found that kids who use devices the most can have problems with sleep, mood regulation, physical health (increased obesity) and communication, learning, and relationships in general. 

When it comes to social media, the evidence is equally compelling and for kids in particular, social media can become addicting and result in increased depression, social isolation, and other harmful effects.   
The good news? There are some simple strategies we can put into place to reconnect with ourselves, our kids and put some limits on digital devices in our families. 

  • First, check yourself. If you’re constantly looking at your phone during mealtimes or family times, your children notice. Consider implementing a “no device at the table” policy.  

  • Put devices in another room, so you’re less likely to reach for them out of habit. 

  • Discuss a screen-time “allowance” with your kids, and give them a voice in the conversation.  Most specialists agree that kids shouldn’t use devices for more than 2 hours a day. 

  • Institute a “no device in bedroom” policy.  This will help support better sleep hygiene and result in less use overall.  Store devices in another room overnight. 

  • Create an “Unplugged Weekend” with your family, in which no electronics are used between the hours of, say, 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM.  Make sure you have lots of games, art, or outdoor activities planned as a family. 

  • When your kids ARE using devices, monitor the content, websites, and social media they use. There are lots of parental filters and controls available

  • Start a yoga practice with your kids! Check the PLAY website for lots of great options.  Yoga has been shown to help strengthen the mind-body connection, improve concentration, and present-moment awareness. 

These are just a few easy ways to help get you started towards a more engaged and mindful family.  I can’t say I’ve done these perfectly. But as I’ve started to implement some of them, I’ve noticed my son becoming more talkative, engaged, loving, and, well, present.  So give them a try and see if they don’t lead to improvements in the quality of your family’s time together!

Dan StricklandComment