12 Ways to Tame Your Family’s Screen Time in 2022

I spent much of 2021 writing about the harmful effects of technology, especially social media, on children. Cutting back on technology has often helped the teens I’ve talked to — and frankly, the rest of us probably benefit from the same.

To that end, here are dozens of ways to maintain healthy tech habits this year.

Each family member can start by evaluating their technology use and sharing the results. Screen time settings on Apple and Android devices allow you to see how long you’ve been on the device in a given week, and how much was spent on certain apps. (There are also ways to do this on a Mac or Windows computer.)

Ask the players in the family to record the time they spend playing for a week. The total can be eye-opening. I was shocked to find that most of my private phone time last week was on the Messages app – over three hours of texting!

There is no need to adopt all these decisions, you just have to choose a few that suit you.

Let the kids set their time in front of the screen

Setting rules around technology use is most successful when the whole family is involved in decision-making, said parenting mentor Susan Groner. “What if we taught kids to be screen time watchdogs?”

Ask your children how much and what kind of screen time they want, and how they plan to monitor it. Then let them run it themselves for a week. Next, ask what worked and what didn’t. Can they do their homework and complete chores and other activities? Did they get enough sleep? Does the watch watch work, or do they need to set an alarm?

It may take a few weeks to find out – if at all – but Ms Gruner said the approach teaches important lessons in time management. In addition, children are more likely to follow the rules they helped set.

Agree on when and where to use the equipment

Having consistent rules about when and where devices can be used can eliminate conflict. If, say, the family agrees that there are no phones at the dinner table or in the bedrooms at night, there is no question about that.

Susan Ariko, a digital wellness educator based in Old Lyme, Connecticut, decided to stop putting her phone in the bathroom. “That feeling that we have to have our phones with us all the time is what I want to challenge,” she said.

Gamify Reduction Technology

If your family has a competitive streak, use it to your advantage, said Chris Flack, co-founder of UnPlug, a digital health consultancy. Parents may be challenging themselves to forgo two hours a week of scrolling on Instagram, while kids reduce TikTok consumption by the same amount. Whoever achieves the goal gets a pizza. Losers get bologna sandwiches.

Make time for non-technical activities

It’s not enough to express that you want more time outdoors or more reading – budget for that time and maybe make it part of your routine. Make time for family picnics on Saturdays, or read together on another day. My youngest child goes to bed at the same time, reading to one another out loud before the lights go out. We also plan to increase reading time during screen-free Sundays.

bank screen time

To make other decisions possible, such as reading more, you can motivate them. One of my friends plans to have her kids count the hours they spend doing chores and reading, and then give them the same amount of time to play on the iPad.

Make small daily changes

If a full screen-free day seems too daunting, make smaller daily cuts in screen use. Reducing your technology use by two hours a day for an entire year gives you a whole month of your life. Consider cutting out that hour you spend checking the news in the morning (or switch to a podcast, like The Journal or What News) and the hour you spend scrolling Instagram in bed at night. (The latter becomes easier with the no-phone rule in the bedroom.)

Swap screen activities

Maybe you want better, not less, screen time. If your kids watch endless streams on TikTok or YouTube, swap in some curated content, like the Netflix Smart Show. (Turn off Netflix’s auto-play feature.) Or have them watch something educational—and maybe boring, too. “If programming was less compelling, they would make it into this book,” said Nicole Rawson, founder of Screen Time Clinic, a network of digital wellness coaches.

Ban devices during family movie night

Movie night can bring families together, but glancing at the screens while the movie is showing frustrates the goal. Mr. Flack said having devices in sight during in-person interactions reduces the quality of interaction. Known as the “iPhone effect”, it occurs whether the phone is turned on or off. It is suggested to keep the devices in another room while associated with a favorite show or movie.

Avoid social media until noon

Ms Ariko said she has found that starting your day without checking Twitter or Instagram helps you develop more self-control in using social media.

Find a social alternative

You don’t have to be on a large social media network to keep in touch with friends and family. Switching to alternative photo-sharing apps or smaller social networks can free you from the hustle and bustle of political drama often found on some of the larger platforms. Danny Groner, a marketing director in New York (not related to Susan Groner), deactivated his Facebook account on December 31 and replaced it with a Substack newsletter, where he shares his thoughts with a much smaller group of people.

Let your device settings help you

Set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode during times when you want to focus on other activities or sleep. In iOS 15, the feature became part of a new setting called Focus, which allows you to do more than just silence everything. You can choose which people or apps you want to receive notifications from during times when everything else is silenced. Android devices also have Do Not Disturb settings. Alternatively, you can use your phone’s settings to limit time on your most addictive apps.

Choose Phone or FaceTime instead of text

Don’t send text messages automatically when you want to reach someone. Michelle Dittman, an accountant in Leawood, Kansas, decided to stop texting her teenage son, who ignored her texts anyway.

Share your thoughts

How would you like to change your technology usage this year? Join the conversation below.

Instead, she leaves him notes on the fridge using magnetic letters. She also explains the word of the week and sends a picture of it to her oldest son in Seattle. She asks him to answer the FaceTime call – and use the word in the conversation.

Whatever you decide to do, formalize it by writing down your decisions and how you plan to implement them. This will help hold everyone in the family accountable, including you.

write to Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com

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