Are you finding yourself in a constant battle to get your child to put down their phone, look up from their tablet, or step away from their computer? Are you worried about the amount of time they spend buried away in their room engrossed in YouTube videos or aimlessly scrolling through social media? If you are, then trust me, you’re not alone.

According to recent studies, teens spend an average of 7 hours a day mesmerized by their monitors. Children between the ages of 8 and 12 are not too far behind, racking up an average of 5 hours daily. Worryingly these statistics do not even include the time they spend in front of a screen doing their homework.

Now, with distance learning and online Zoom classes becoming the new normal, we can only assume that kids between 8 and18 are spending most of their waking hours looking at some sort of device.

This is undoubtedly a major issue. Research has shown that excessive screen use can significantly impact social skills, grades, relationships, mood, physical wellbeing, and brain health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends curbing kids’ screen time to a maximum of 2 hours a day. So, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Now I know what you are thinking, easier said than done. So, the next time you are trying to reason with a stubborn youth and you hear the typical cutting responses, “I hate you” or “you’re ruining my life,” try to stay resolute and remember the following:

  • Excessive screen time impairs the structure, development, and functioning of the brain. It causes grey matter atrophy, the loss of white matter integrity, and it reduces cortical thickness. One of the primary areas affected is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, organizing, and controlling impulses.
  • It affects melatonin rhythms, which impact mood and cognitive function the following day.
  • It’s linked to obesity, anxiety, and even depression.
  • It impacts socialization and emotional intelligence.
  • It causes a continued loss of focus, which makes it more difficult to learn. Ensuring a phone ban during homework time is a must.
  • They become little dopamine “addicts” in need of continuous stimulation and gratification.

I believe this last point is one of the most concerning and frustrating consequences of them all. The thirst for a consistent thrill or hit of excitement is a colossal issue, as they will rarely get a similar rush of dopamine in a non-screen environment. An average day begins to feel dull and boring before they lapse into a continual sense of lethargy and apathy. This can result in a loss of interest in school and socializing outside the home, the very things that will help them become successful, well-adjusted adults.  

If you want to try and limit this potentially toxic screen time for your teens, then here are four top tips:

1. Have an Apparatus Agreement

This is the perfect way to ensure your expectations are clearly outlined and what the consequences will be if they’re not met. Having parameters in place will reduce the likelihood of future misunderstandings and confrontations.

Setting up expectations and boundaries from the outset will also give them some control back. Allow them to have a certain amount of screen time and then check their usage at the end of every day. Other than when they are doing their homework or participating in family time, they can choose when to use their phone and computer for entertainment.

2. No Devices During Dinner

Studies show that regular family meals not only improve the psychological health of teenagers but also their grades at school. This is also true when only one parent is present – and even in situations where the teen expresses an overall dislike for their guardian(s). The key here is not to allow phones at the table, so everyone is encouraged to engage and communicate with one another.

Take this opportunity to learn more about who they are and what they are experiencing in their life. I think sharing your “high” and “low” from the day is a great way to keep the conversation interesting and meaningful.

3. No Screens Before Slumber

The nighttime ritual should be a sacred time to prepare the body and mind for rest, whatever the age.

Sleep deprivation due to the dopamine rush of playing on the computer or phone before bed makes kids irritable and reduces their lack of focus the next day. Not to mention the blue light keeps their brain awake, which makes it harder to fall asleep.

Have a strict house rule of no phones for one hour before bedtime and stick rigidly to it. For kids to modify their behaviors, they need consistency, and it is always more effective to demonstrate what you wish to see in your child, so turn off your screen at the same time. Set a good example and remember that children learn more from what you are than what you teach. If there is one thing that teens rebel against, it’s hypocrisy.

4. Create Merriment Away From the Monitor

Keeping your child busy with real life, meaningful, and fun activities will give them less time and less interest in their phone. Doing things as a family unit creates harmony and a sense of solidarity that children need from their parents. Try roller skating, bowling, or fun outdoor pursuits. You don’t need to do anything fancy or expensive, but novelty definitely helps.

Brain research has shown that fresh experiences activate the “pleasure centers” of the brain, resulting in a flood of dopamine, making us feel more alive and joyful. This is similar to but certainly more enriching than what they get from their phones.

During the quarantine you will have to be a little more creative with indoor activities limited at this time.

There is a lot we cannot control as parents, but one way you know with absolute certainty that you can positively impact your kid’s brain development, health, happiness, social skills, and grades is by limiting their screen time. It is scientifically proven you will be helping your child reach their full potential.

No matter how hard they fight you, ignore you, or say hurtful things to get their way, always remember you have their best interests at heart, and they will thank you later.

As parents, it’s our job to nurture our children and help them grow into the best version of themselves. Technology is here to stay, so we must arm our children with the tools to use it as a value rather than a vice.