Smartphones, tablets, and laptops provide us and our kids with a never-ending stream of possibilities for learning and entertainment—but we know that too much screen time can be dangerous for our health and well-being.
Lost sleep, distracted workdays, waning attention spans, and even teen depression can result from spending too much time in virtual space. But the good news is there are lots of ways to decrease or improve the quality of screen time for you and your kids.
Improve the Quality of the Screen Time You Get
If it’s tough to extricate your kids (or yourself) from that enticing blue glow your devices provide, try to make sure your screen time is educating or assisting you or your children in some way. There are many options for apps and educational websites that offer plenty of ways to keep your screen time golden.
- Watch a documentary. Instead of zoning out on your latest favorite binge-worthy series, try streaming educational documentaries and watching them with your kids. Find out what topics your kids are learning about in school and search through documentary genres together – you may find something that enhances or supplements their schoolwork. Who knows? You might find a topic that keeps you interested in learning more.
- Find other ways to learn something. Try downloading brain-stimulating games for little kids or educational apps for older kids and adults. Apps like StudyBlue help kids find study materials like flashcards or notes on all kinds of topics, or they can make and share their own. Duolingo gives you the option to learn about three dozen languages, most of them spoken on modern-day Earth (Klingon and High Valyrian are options). Learn with your child, get ready for your next vacation, or prep for some travel through the space-time continuum.
- Get mindful. Another great way to use screen time to your advantage is to engage in mindfulness or meditation. The Calm app has gained recognition from Apple for creating a sense of, well, calm among its users. It offers free meditations of varying lengths, starting with three minutes for the pressed-for-time among us. It also offers “sleep stories” to help you catch your zzz’s. Mindfulness and meditation apps also can be a great way for older kids to find their center, particularly when prepping for study time or dreaded exams.
Decrease Your Screen Time
While there are plenty of educational and productive ways to use our screen time, it’s also a good idea to put the devices down completely. Remember that blue light emitted from our screens can interrupt our sleep cycles when used too long into the night hours. Throwing off our natural circadian rhythm results in groggy mornings, and therefore poor attention spans at school or work. For kids, this can mean problems at school or a slip in grades. For adults, it can mean mistakes at work and an increased chance of serious health problems later on, including heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.
- Nix the blue light. In addition to interrupting sleep, some scientists are warning that blue light can even accelerate the damage to retinal cells that leads to age-related macular degeneration and blindness. While we need some blue light (which we also get from the sun), the increased exposure we get on a daily basis from screen use may be putting us in troublesome territory. Within your device’s settings is the option to add nighttime filters to reduce the amount of blue light you and your kids are getting. When the screen changes color, it not only helps keep us healthier, it’s also a good reminder that maybe it’s time to put the devices to bed.
- Make meals an event. Set parameters for screen use by banning them from mealtimes or other family activities to help keep you and your kids focused on what’s happening in front of them. This especially goes for mom and dad: often times we forget that even just checking our phone during family time, even if it's work related, sends a message to our kids that something on the screen is more important than the people around you (it doesn't matter to the kids that it's work related, the message has been sent and the "damage" has been done). Try extending family time by making meals together, or encourage your kids to do homework in the kitchen while you’re making dinner.
- Put a timer on it. If you allow for after-dinner screen time, set a timer (there’s one on your phone), and make the limits apply to both you and your children. In this digital age when we’re more connected than not and can keep working from anywhere, it’s tempting to bring your work home with you. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but more often than not it can turn into a bad habit. Save your time instead for face-to-face interactions with family or friends.
Decreasing and improving your screen time can only help you and your kids stay healthier in the long run. While it is difficult to change habits, making small changes—one at a time—can help you achieve your goal.
Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. She's been featured in publications like Reader's Digest, BestLife, Purpose Fairy, and Today. She specializes in senior health, family sleep issues, and sleep disorders, but frequently covers a variety of topics ranging from fitness to family dyna...
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