Employee & Community Health

Unplugging your family: Tips to make it work

6/11/2018 by Dr. Angela Mattke

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Are you worried that screen time has run amok in your family? If you are, you're not alone. In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, nearly 47% of parents worry their kids are addicted to mobile devices. And no wonder. Using a mobile device activates the pleasure sensors in our brain, which means they make us feel good. 

To put media use in perspective, the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) guidelines for young children are: 

  • Before age 2: NO digital media, except for video chatting
  • Ages 2-5: Limit to one hour per day of high-quality programming and watch it with them
  • Ages 5 and up: Two hours or less per day

So what can parents do? Here are some tips for managing family device use and even unplugging for a while. 

It starts with you. How may times a day do you turn to your phone? Being aware of your own habits can help you be a better role model. Resist the urge to bring your phone to bed, check email whenever you have a few minutes of downtime or glance at the screen instead of watching your kids jump in the pool, shoot baskets or dance around the living room. 

Create a family media plan. Bring the family together and design a media plan, complete with goals and rules that everyone can buy into. It also will help you as a parent determine the role you want media to play in your family. The AAPs Healthy Children website has created an online, step-by-step form (in both English and Spanish) to help you customize a plan for your family as a whole, as well as each child. 

Stick to the plan. Be prepared: A device-free dinner, holiday or Sunday afternoon is going to generate a symphony of whines and moans. Remind your family that the plan was agreed on by everyone and applies to everyone — even the grownups. 

Fill the device gap. Simply unplugging isn't the point; it's about breaking free of our electronic babysitters to connect with friends, spend time together as a family and savor alone time. Spend that time talking, making pizza from scratch, playing games, going for a walk, doing puzzles, planning a "someday" trip, rediscovering favorite toys, making a scrapbook, volunteering together. The device-free options are limited only by your imagination. 

Reap the benefits. There are sound reasons for putting down the phone. Cyberbullying is real. So is texting while driving (it's illegal in Minnesota). Kids — and grownups — need to learn how to engage face-to-face with people, something that will serve them well in the workplace and life. And remember: It's okay to be bored. Boredom fosters creativity, resiliency, imagination and problem solving. All indispensable skills for a successful life. 

Dr. Angela Mattke is a general pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, She is also host of Mayo Clinic's interactive FacebookLive show called, #AskTheMayoMom, where she discusses and answers audience questions about common pediatric health topics. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAngelaMattke. For more information about pediatric health topics, follow @mayoclinickids on Twitter.