Simple life hacks if your family wants to cut back on screen time

Our love-hate relationship with tech often leads us to question the amount of time it’s taking up in our lives. For every fantastically useful thing we enjoy, there is a troublesome worry that ‘screens’ are taking up more time than they should.

There have been claims that children are harmed by excessive screen time, often suggesting a causal link with outcomes including obesity, mental health issues and low educational attainment. However, a recent review of scientific literature concluded there is 'essentially no evidence’ for the statement that ‘screen time is directly toxic to health’. 
 
The same report, however, warns that it is possible for screen time to have some negative impact by displacing positive activities such as socialising, good sleep, diet and exercise. If you feel as though you and your family could make some changes to get back in control of your screen time, here are some easy hacks to help you do it.

Get rid of unwanted notifications

Putting smartphones down is easier said than done and those vibrating notification buzzes are one of the things that keep making us pick them up. A lot of the time those notifications turn out to be just another marketing email or an app telling us it hasn’t been used in a while — you can just turn them off. 
 
Adjust your settings so you’re only interrupted by the notifications you really need. Check when you last used each app — if it wasn’t today or yesterday, turn off its notifications. That way you’ll know that when your phone chimes, you are actually going to want to hear what it has to say.

Don’t sleep with your phone

Having your phone next to your bed — or even under your pillow — makes it far too easy to grab it and get sucked into a mobile game or a YouTube video if you’re struggling to go to sleep. Scrolling through messages, having long WhatsApp chats, checking your Instagram — they’re all tempting when your phone is right there next to you. But it’s not good for your sleep and it’s definitely not good for children. 
 
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommends that children keep away from screens in the hour before bed as it could interfere with their sleep and they shouldn’t sleep with devices in their bedrooms. 
 
Choose a place to keep devices overnight and get everyone to stick to it. Be careful if you’re tempted to charge them overnight though because that can pose a fire risk. 

Decide if you want some family rules 

Every family is different, so you need to find a solution that works for yours. Have a chat about ground rules and, if you all agree there are some things that would make everyone happier, set them and stick to them. For example, there might be a time you decide is going to be device free — like mealtimes or pick-up time from school. 
 
Whatever you decide, try to make it a family effort — screen time reduction is a task best attempted as a team!

Try out wellbeing functions

If you’re having a hard time putting the devices away there are plenty of wellbeing functions on phones, tablets and games consoles which might make it easier for you to clock in some offline time.
  • Phones/tablets: Having a usage-tracking app on your phone can make it easier to spot which areas you might want to cut back on. For example, Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ gives you a full break-down of how you’ve been spending your screen time— dividing it into categories such as gaming, social media and entertainment. 

  • Smart devices: If you have smart devices like Alexa or the Google Home range, play around with the digital wellbeing functions. Downtime turns off Google Home during preset periods — you’ll get no notifications, other than alarms you’ve set, and you won’t be able to use connected devices like Android TVs or Chromecasts.

  • Games consoles: Some consoles — like the Nintendo Switch — let parents set screen time limits for each day of the week. Your child will be given a gentle reminder when they’ve almost met their quota — then the console will go to sleep.

Whatever you decide about your screen time usage, remember that it’s not how long you spend online that counts — it’s what you do and what it’s stopping you doing. It’s important to remember that screen time provides many positive opportunities for learning and development, enjoyment, and developing social connections. 
 
If you are concerned that screen time usage is interfering with sleep, diet and family activities, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have published a screen time guide on how to control screen time.
 
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.
 
Updated: February 2019
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