It’s no surprise that we’re spending more time than ever in front of a screen. Children spend an average of up to six hours a day in front of a screen, and teens spend up to 9 hours! “Where in the world did they pick up these toxic habits?” I ask myself, looking up from my screen.

Today, you can’t avoid screens completely. But internet dependence is a growing problem for kids and adults around the world. Because your brain continues to develop until you’re around 25 years old, children and teens are more at risk of developing an addiction to tech. I don’t think anyone parent wants to sit next to their tween at a Tech-aholic Anonymous meeting—is there such a thing?

It’s more important than ever to raise your child with a healthy relationship with technology. To be honest, limiting screens is something that would benefit even us adults. 

Signs Your Kid Needs a Digital Detox

Technology addiction is a real medical concern. Much like you can become addicted to smoking, you can get addicted to being in front of a screen. With social media apps like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok generating literally thousands of videos and posts per minute and draining time from your child’s life, a digital detox may be needed.  

Having too much screen time can show up in your child in a lot of different ways: 

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Irritability and increased aggression

  • Impulsive behavior

  • Mood swings

  • Low grades in school

  • Issues falling and staying asleep

  • Poor body image

  • Social issues such as difficulty communicating face-to-face

Researchers are unsure whether these behavioral problems cause screen addiction, or if children with behavioral problems simply gravitate towards electronics. Either way, too much screen time can harm your child’s cognitive and social development. 

How to Limit Screen Time

1. Set Screen Time Expectations. The first thing you need to do before giving your child screen access is to set expectations and rules on how to use it. Giving your child freedom as they grow is an important part of development. But you also need to be their protector and limit access to things that could harm them until they’re old enough to make decisions themselves. 

For younger children, your tech rules could focus on how many minutes of screen time per day they can have. And consequences could be losing screen time or the device for a day. Since older children will have more freedom, the rules will be a bit different. Discuss expectations about what types of sites to stay away from, why they should keep their device in a public space, and what time in the evening they should put screens away.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, screen time is up in many homes. With more schools switching to a virtual classroom, children are stuck at home in front of a screen the majority of the day. That screen time adds up quickly. Make sure you stress the importance of time away from screens whenever possible.

2. Use Tech to Fight Tech. It’s not just you—parents all over the world are struggling to get their children off of screens. Thankfully, most cell phones now have parental control features to limit screen time and control what apps your child can access. App stores have lots of options you can download that will get your child to finally look up from their screens. The Activate Fitness app will only let kids unlock games after reaching an activity goal like doing jumping jacks or running up a flight of stairs. Qustodio can track your child’s location and screen unwanted internet content like pornography. A simple search for parental control apps will show just how easy it can be to limit your child’s tech time. 

3. Go Outside. One of the easiest ways to get your kid off their phone is to take them outside! Whether you’re going on a bike ride in your neighborhood or on a hike in the mountains, your kids will be forced to be off their devices. The lack of cell service and WiFi in the mountains also helps limit their screen time. Make sure you’re abiding by safe social distancing guidelines because of COVID-19 concerns. This means staying at least six feet away from hikers whenever possible, choosing a trail close to home, and wearing a face mask when near other hikers. 

4. Create Screen-Free Zones. Just like many adults like to keep their bedroom a T.V.-free area, creating screen-free zones around your home can help limit your child’s screen time. Areas like bedrooms, the kitchen table, and the car are great screen-free zones. Removing screens from bedrooms will also help them get more sleep, have better quality sleep, and prevent mental health problems such as depression. Mealtimes and car rides are a great way to connect as a family. It’s important to have these family bonding moments, and time away from devices can give your child’s brain a much-needed rest!

Remember that children learn from their parents. If you set a good example and follow similar screen time limits, your child will be more likely to follow your lead. 

5. Be Consistent in Enforcing Your Rules. Don’t let your child wear you down when it comes to enforcing your screen time rules. If you give in to their begging, it shows them that rules don’t matter and they can eventually get anything they want! Make sure that all adults in the house are on the same page in what the screen time rules are. 

Remember: your child is essentially a tech addict! Withdrawal symptoms like anger, pouting, or crying can happen when you start limiting their screen time. You know what’s best for your child—and that can mean you will make decisions they don’t like. But it’s important for their development that you stick to your guns.