How to take a break from your devices

How to take a break from your devices

Taking time to unplug is crucial for your health and relationships, but doing so can be easier said than done. Here’s how to create boundaries your whole household can get behind.

Mother pushing her daughter on the swing

Digital devices have become a big part of life. Most of us rely on them for work, remembering events and appointments, connecting with loved ones, and even ordering household essentials.

This technology is ultimately a force for good and can enhance daily life. But what happens when we get too much of a good thing?

Indeed, experts are concerned that we are spending too much time staring at screens. In fact, the average American adult spends 11 hours a day in front of a screen. And roughly 86 percent of U.S. adults said they check their emails, texts, and social media accounts constantly or often, according to the American Psychological Association’s national report Stress in America: Coping with Change.

So, how is all this screen time impacting our mental health? Well, it can mess with sleep, make it hard to concentrate, and increase a person’s risk of anxiety and depression. The time spent in front of a screen also replaces time that might otherwise be used playing and being active. And that’s a shame since movement has been shown to lighten our moods, improve our self-esteem and cognitive function, and also protect us against depression and anxiety.

The risks aren’t just for adults, though. Kids who spend a lot of time in front of screens also tend to have more behavioral problems and issues with social skills, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While it’s not necessary (or even possible) to avoid screens entirely, setting aside time each day to unplug can have major benefits. “Research shows that when people spend time in nature without their devices, they feel less stressed and more creative, have improved moods, and sleep better,” says Meghan Owenz, Ph.D., co-founder of Screen-Free Parenting.

That time spent in nature can be as simple as taking a walk in the park during your lunch break, rather than checking your phone while you eat. Here are other ways to rest your eyes and recharge.

1. Be a model for healthy screen use

Parents and grandparents who limit screen time — for themselves and the children — can expect closer connections among family members. “A growing body of research shows parents are really distracted by their digital devices when they are with their children,” says Owenz. “This distraction causes children to do more to bid for parents’ attention, including acting out.”

So, aim to create boundaries around your own device use and limit phone interruptions during family time, suggests Owenz. It’ll make it easier to connect with your child — and that connection may lead to better behavior. Some ideas you can try:

  • Take regular breaks (at least every 30 minutes) to move your body and stretch
  • Block out hours each day that are screen-free
  • Keep screens out of the bedroom

2. Create a plan

Along those lines, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests creating a family media plan as a household. The first step is being aware of how you each use media, and then creating goals and rules that meet your family’s values.

You might decide to designate screen-free zones, off-limit times, device curfews, and distinctions between “fun” screen use and work. You could also try downloading a “detach app” that allows you to block out certain addictive apps (say, email or Facebook) at certain times of the day.

3. Keep your hands busy

For many of us, our phones are our pocket partners that travel with us wherever we go — which can sometimes make going offline difficult. To reduce the urge to check your phone, try to occupy yourself with non-digital entertainment. You might opt for reading a book, knitting, or coloring.

4. Foster face-to-face relationships

So many of our interactions are virtual these days. Still, digital relationships aren’t a replacement for the real deal, says the American Psychological Association, which suggests making time to nurture those bonds. This could mean playing board games together as a family, going on hikes, or finding hands-on hobbies that get each of you excited to put down the screens and have some IRL (in real life) fun.