How to survive a digital detox

Digital detox

We all want less screen time and more family time, but we just get sucked in. TV and iPads can be an easy way keep the kids engrossed when we’re busy and stressed. And for ourselves, it can be hard to disconnect when we’re so used to being wired 24/7. So why not try talking a … gulp … digital detox?

Sounds too hard? We promise it’s not. We chatted to Collett Smart, FebFast ambassador and child psychologist, about how to survive family time without screen time.

1. Set realistic limits

Collett says, “I love FebFast Digital Detox and agreed to be their ambassador because it is so realistic. It is not a ’28-days-without-technology-at-all’ challenge. Rather, 28 days of cutting back and being mindful with technology.”

For adults, this means switching off in the evening after work and taking a break from your TV, laptop, tablet and mobile phone from 8pm onwards.

For kids (who naturally ‘detox’ in the evenings because they’re in bed!), Collett suggests choosing a few small changes. For example, set a technology time limit on weekends, implement a “no technology in bedrooms” rule, or get kids to switch off two hours before bed.

“Breaks in the evening, especially an hour or two before bed actually aid sleep,” says Collett. “It is now known that the blue light emitted from screens suppresses normal nighttime release of melatonin, a key hormone in the body’s clock, or circadian system.”

2. Get the kids on board

A digital detox isn’t a punishment, but unless you frame it well, you might get a backlash from iPad hungry kids.

“I was careful about not ‘forcing’ a detox on my kids,” says Collett. “I think it’s the way you frame the idea, such as, ‘We would like to connect more and do things as a family in the evenings or on weekends during February. So how about we leave our phones and iPods at home/in the drawer while we do that?'”

Collett also suggests involving kids in picking tech-free family activities, so it becomes their idea and not just yours.

3. Make an activity list

When the kids are whining about being bored, saying “Find something to do!” doesn’t work.

Collett suggests brainstorming a list of top 10 activities or games the kids can do at home, and putting them up on the fridge (use drawings for kids that can’t read). Whenever the complaints start, ask them to pick an activity from the list.

“Let the kids come up with these ideas themselves,” says Collett. “Some may involve you (like baking) but it is important for children to develop their own ideas and learn how to entertain themselves.  I now use the phrase ‘You are responsible for your own fun.’ Some days it involves a period of walking around in circles, trying to wear mum down, but once they are engrossed in an activity they soon forget the screen.”

4. Set an egg timer

When kids are having a technology break during the day, Collett advises setting an egg timer so that children know when they will get to play with screens again.

Kids are allowed to check the timer, but they’re not allowed to ask you when iPad time starts again. No more nagging!

5. Go outside

The easiest way to distract kids away from technology is to get them out in to the open. During your detox period, set up lots of activities and outings that involve getting outside and physically leaving screens behind.

Go for a walk, stroll along the beach, play at the park, or kick a ball in the back yard. If possible, try to leave your phone at home. That way there is definitely no screen to ask for!

6. Create healthy tech habits

Your detox period is a great time to set up some healthy technology habits that you can carry through long-term, such as routines around ‘switch off’ time.

Collett’s kids “are used to putting their iPods or iPads on the ‘charging’ desk in the passage outside our bedroom door. We have done this as adults ourselves, so it is not something odd or unfair for them.”

7. Stay on track

During any detox period, there will inevitably be that one day where you’re bone tired, the kids are screaming, and the temptation to switch on the TV for some respite is all to great.

Collett says not to worry if you have a lapse. “Just pick up again and bring back the boundaries. Kids thrive on boundaries. They may fuss for a day or two, but they get used to the new structure really quickly. Especially if they know that you mean it and that it is not a ‘punishment’, rather something that the whole family is doing to keep healthy.”

8. Make long-term change

When your detox period is ending, you might find things are going so well you don’t want to simply dive back in to your old relationship with technology. After a period of consistency, the kids have probably got used to the new routine. And you might be sleeping better and feeling less stressed. So should you end the detox, or keep going?

Try to keep the momentum going. You might relax a few of the stricter detox rules (no TV or internet after 8pm for adults is a little rich!) but keep some boundaries permanently, such as an evening technology curfew for kids.

Collett  stresses that technology is not the enemy, simply a part of life we need to keep in balance: “TV and technology is not ‘bad’ – it’s when the behavior around technology becomes problematic and all-consuming, to the detriment of people and other parts of our lives, that it is an issue.”

5 things to do instead of watching TV

Collett Smart is a psychologist, teacher, speaker, writer and mum of three. She is an ambassador for FebFast, the charity movement that challenges you to take a 28 day break from alcohol, sugar, caffeine or digital overload, to raise funds for youth addiction.