Smartphones and Other Devices: Suggestions and Solutions.

Smartphones and other devices connect us in ways we could never connect before. Texting, FaceTime, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram. We have access to more information than we could ever have the time to comprehend and it’s all on-demand, at our fingertips, nearly 24-hours a day.

But when does it all become too much? How do we help our children connect AND disconnect? How do we teach them to manage technology so it doesn’t manage them?

Suggestions and Solutions.

Set up a Family Media Plan.

Without questions, every family should have some type of Family Media Plan. It can be extensive or basic. But you need to address your family’s values, rules and consequences. Because, let’s face it, kids are unwilling and unable to set and manage their own limits. They need our help.

  • Check out our collection of Family Media Plans.

  • Make sure you follow through on consequences.

  • Be a positive role model and talk about why you use your phone when you do (for example, coordinating endless rides for them!).

  • Celebrate tech-free days and times.

  • Review your plan often and talk about what’s working and what isn’t.

  • Our partner, Delaney Ruston, MD, director of “Screenagers” offers great suggestions for talking to your kids about technology here and here. Browse and sign up for her Tech Talk Tuesdays here.

  • Utilize apps that help you manage screen time. Look at the data, discuss it with your teen and set goals.

Talk to your kids and encourage them to talk more

In our rush to live, we are often too busy to talk about how we’re living. This is so important, especially when it comes to technology. As soon as your child can understand, start talking about safe and healthy use of technology.

  • Set screen time limits, but explain why, Lisa Strohman, clinical psychologist and author, suggestions. Her children, for example, are well aware of the damaging impact of unchecked gaming: “They know that video games are programmed by psychologists and behaviorists to tap into the dopamine reward center in our brains to keep us hooked,” she tells Thrive Global. It’s a parent’s job, she emphasizes, to empower kids with knowledge so they’re able to make responsible decisions for themselves. 

  • Understand the legality of content collection by online entities. “Use technology as a tool but don’t let it use you as a tool for it’s own profit,” says Strohman.

  • Dr. Sherry Turkle, whose latest book is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, wants us to stop compulsively texting, tweeting and posting, and get talking. “In conversations people get to know each other and themselves,” she says. And she points out, those “long silences, hesitations, and stutters” that often accompany conversation are pregnant with intellectual possibilities and paths to rich discoveries.

Get phones out of bedrooms.

Your’s included. Buy an alarm clock or use an old iPhone and charge your smartphone in the kitchen. Don’t let your phone be the last thing you look at before you go to bed and the first thing you look at when you wake up. That’s your spouse’s job! If you just can’t do it (trust us, we understand!), at least setup “Do Not Disturb” and turn your phone to “Airplane” mode while you sleep. And whatever you do, do not let yourself pick it up in the middle of the night. It WILL disrupt your sleep.

For kids, tweens and teens, this is especially important.

  • Middle schoolers need 9-12 hours of sleep and high schoolers need 8-10 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

  • According to a study by the CDC, 58% of middle schoolers and 73% of high schoolers don’t get enough sleep.

  • Screens interfere with melatonin, which interferes with sleep and can potentially cause disease. Most physicians recommend no screen time at least 1 hour before bed.

  • Collect smartphones and other technology devices (iPods, iPads, computers) and keep them in a safe place, out of reach from tweens and teens during “sleep time.” The kitchen may seem like a safe place, but is it?

  • To learn more about the impacts of technology on sleep, check out our resource here. Get empowered with more suggestions here.

Avoid media multitasking.

American youth spend an average of 9 hours a day, everyday, with media.

That’s more time spent with media than doing anything else. Of that time, 29% is spent engaging with multiple forms of media at the same time. Current research suggests that media multitasking may interfere with concurrent learning. And that “heavier media multitaskers often exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains.”

  • Take control of your phone. The Center for Humane Technology shows you how here.

  • Avoid using smartphones or other devices while completing homework.

  • Encourage kids to utilize “Do not disturb” features to avoid distractions from texts and emails.

  • Avoid putting all apps on all devices (for example, discourage teens from downloading messenger onto their computers.)

  • Turn off notifications, especially push notifications from apps, and avoid pop-ups and banners on smartphones and computers. Specifically, disable email notifications on computers and banner notifications on smartphones.

  • Consider using gray scale on smartphones.

  • For more information, check out our learning and education resources. Get empowered with suggestions here.

Learn more:

Stanford Medicine: Scope, article: How does media multitasking affect the mind? - “Heavier media multitaskers often exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains”

An Empirical Examination of the Educational Impact of Text Message-Induced Task Switching in the Classroom: Educational Implications and Strategies to Enhance Learning - Borrowed from Away for the Day, “MAIN FINDING: While college students watched a videotaped lecture they were randomly interrupted by text messages. Based on the number of texts sent and received, three “texting interruption” groups were defined as Low, Moderate and High. A recall test measured the impact of texting on memory. The high texting group scored significantly worse (10.6% lower) than the low texting interruption group.

Encourage “Mindful” Use of technology.

It’s no wonder kids (and adults) find it challenging to disconnect. If you haven’t successfully found JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out), you most likely suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Certainly most teens do. In many instances, it’s not us but Persuasive Design. Technology is hard to control when it’s designed for the “Economy of Attention.” But there are things we can do.

  • Don’t turn into Pavlov’s dog and jump for your device every time it dings, beeps and tweets. Make a conscious decision to check texts, emails or other apps. And teach your kids to as well. Go as far as giving them words, “Now, I am going to check my texts.” Set a time limit (10-20 minutes) and stick to it. Then walk away and engage in another tech-free activity. And leave your phone alone.

  • Speaking of time limits. Encourage kids to take breaks from technology use. Think in terms of time on and time off (for example: 20 minutes on, 60 minutes off).

  • Remind yourself and your kids that “people should always come first.” Close the laptop. Put away (not just down) the device. Especially at the dinner table, in the car and at parties. Consider a “Cell Motel” (central basket) for devices during events at your home. Make it fun. Tuck those devices in with a blanket if you need to. They’ll be ok.

  • “Screens are small, the world is big.” Snap a few pictures. Choose a Pandora station. Then put the device down and look around. Out the window. The 3D real world is 100 times better than a 2D world through a tiny screen. Dare you take time to daydream!!

  • Make IRL (In Real Life) a priority - Teach kids moderation and the importance of balance in their virtual and actual lives. Make time for face-to-face interactions and outdoor play. Restrict violent video games but allow virtual sports, particularly if they take up a real one.

  • Let kids be bored and encourage conversation. Allowing your kids to be bored enough will fire up their imaginations, says Sherry Turkle, Ph.D.. “The capacity to be bored is so important because it is tied to the capacity to look within to an enlivened and enlivening self.” Boredom also inspires kids to investigate and develop other interests, author Nick Carr adds.

Learn More:

Simon Sinek and Jim Kwik (Must Watch) - Put Down the Phones. Simon and Jim make some obvious points about how our smartphone habits are affecting our lives.

Toward “JOMO”: The Joy of Missing Out and the Freedom of Disconnecting - A research report by a pair of UX researchers at Google. What's great about it is that it shows that Google itself understands the problems caused by constant connection: Dangerous driving habits (which research relates to the effort to self-medicate with a phone), reductions in productivity, and psychosocial distress. The paper also acknowledges the negative impact that wireless technology has on the environment.

What can we do to help our kids use technology in a healthy way? - Turning Life On Blog post.

How better tech could protect us from distraction. - Tristan Harris Ted Talk

How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist - In this essay, Tristan Harris explain the myriad ways technology exploits our psychological vulnerabilities.