12 Ways to Tame Your Family’s Screen Time in 2022 | #socialmedia | #children



I spent a lot of 2021 writing about the detrimental effects that technology, and especially social media, has on kids. Cutting back on tech use almost always helped the teens I spoke with—and frankly, the rest of us would probably benefit from the same.

To that end, here are a dozen ways to keep healthier tech habits this year.

Every member of the family can start by assessing their tech use and sharing the results. Screen-time settings on Apple and Android devices allow you to see how long you’ve spent on a device in a given week, and how much was spent on specific apps. (There also are ways to do this on your Mac or Windows PC.)

Ask the gamers in the family to log how much time they spend playing for a week. The total can be eye-opening. I was shocked to find that most of my own phone time last week was on the Messages app—more than three hours of texting!

There’s no need to adopt all these resolutions, just pick a few that resonate with you.

Let kids set their screen time

Establishing rules around tech use is most successful when the whole family is involved in decision-making, said Susan Groner, a parenting mentor. “What if we teach kids to be their own screen-time wardens?”

Ask your kids how much and what type of screen time they want, and how they plan to monitor it. Then let them manage it on their own for a week. Afterward, ask what worked and what didn’t. Could they get homework done and complete chores and other activities? Did they get enough sleep? Did keeping an eye on the clock work, or do they need to set an alarm?

It may take a few weeks to figure it out—if at all—but Ms. Groner said the approach teaches important lessons in time management. Plus, kids are more likely to follow rules they helped set.

Agree on when and where you use devices

Having consistent rules around when and where devices can be used can eliminate conflict. If, for example, the family agrees on no phones at the dinner table or in bedrooms at night, there’s no arguing about it.

Susan Arico, a digital-wellness guide based in Old Lyme, Conn., decided to stop bringing her phone into the bathroom. “This feeling that we must have our phones with us all the time is what I want to challenge,” she said.

Gamify tech reduction

If your family has a competitive streak, use it to your advantage, said Chris Flack, co-founder of UnPlug, a digital-wellness consultancy.  Maybe parents challenge themselves to give up two hours a week of scrolling Instagram, while the kids reduce their TikTok consumption by the same amount. Whoever meets the goal gets pizza; losers get bologna sandwiches.

Dedicate time for non-tech activities

Expressing a wish for more outdoor time or more reading isn’t enough—budget that time and maybe build it into your routine. You could designate time for family hikes on Saturdays, or reading together on another day. My youngest two kids go to bed at the same time, and one of them reads aloud to the other before lights-out. We’re also planning to build in reading time during screen-free Sundays.

Bank screen time

To make other resolutions possible, like reading more, you could incentivize them. One friend of mine plans to have her kids bank the number of hours they spend doing chores and reading, then grant the same amount of time to iPad play.

Make small daily changes

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

Swap screen activities

Maybe you want better, not less, screen time. If your kids are watching endless streams on TikTok or YouTube, swap in some curated content, like a smart

Netflix

show. (Turn off Netflix’s autoplay feature.) Or just have them watch something educational—perhaps even boring. “If the programming is less compelling, they’ll reach for that 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 screens while the movie is playing defeats the purpose. Mr. Flack said even having devices in sight during in-person interactions reduces the quality of the interaction. Known as “the iPhone effect,” it occurs whether the phone is on or off. He suggests keeping devices in another room while bonding over a favorite show or film.

Avoid social media until noon

Ms. Arico said she finds that beginning your day without checking

Twitter

or Instagram helps you develop more self-control over social-media use.

Find a social alternative

You don’t have to be on a big social-media network to stay connected with friends and family. Switching to alternative photo-sharing apps or smaller social networks can free you from the political rants and drama often found on some of the bigger platforms. Danny Groner, a marketing executive in New York (and no relation to Susan Groner), deactivated his

Facebook

account on Dec. 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 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 certain people or apps that you want to receive notifications from during times when all else is silenced. Android devices also have Do Not Disturb settings.  Alternatively, you could use your phone’s settings to limit time on your most addictive apps.

Choose phone or FaceTime over texts

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

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

How would you like to change your tech use this year? Join the conversation below.

Instead, she leaves notes for him on the fridge using magnetic letters. She also spells out a word of the week and texts a photo of it to her older son in Seattle. She asks him to respond with a FaceTime call—and use the word in conversation.

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

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

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