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Plugged in

Plugging into Our Families – Instead of Our Devices

March 21st, 2018     By Boys Town Contributor

Connecting with Kids, Depression, Parent-Child Relationships, Teen, Teens

​​​When a national survey found that more screen time coincides with less happiness among teens, it helped confirm what a lot of parents already believe – that all that time spent on smart phones, tablets, computers and game systems isn't just distracting their teens, it's actually making them more unhappy. And while most recognize the importance of these connections in the social lives of teens, it turns out that live, in-person interactions with friends and others, exercise and activities, and even reading magazines and newspapers all help to improve happiness and satisfaction.

The survey, which was conducted by San Diego State University and the University of Georgia, included more than one million 8th, 10th and 12th graders ​across the United States. Participants were asked questions about the frequency and amount of time they spent on their phones and devices, their in-person interactions and their overall happiness. The more time spent on digital devices resulted in greater unhappiness while less time correlated with greater happiness.

"It's easy to get caught up in a world that exists only within our phones, tablets and computers. Teens and adults alike need to 'unplug' and live in the real world, be active and interact with others in person," said Kristen Hallstrom, Manager of the Boys Town National Hotline.

Ways to Reduce Screen Ti​me

While many parents have already been working on ways to reduce screen time, this study gives yet another reason to do it. Rather than restrictions and all-out bans, here are a few ideas that are easy to implement – and require everyone in the household to play by the same rules:

• A Tisket a Tasket, Put It In The Basket – Like dropping your keys in the bowl or hanging your jacket on the hook, leaving your device in a basket when everyone gets home is a great habit to get into. Many families set a time frame, say from 5 to 8 p.m., to put phones in the basket and leave them there. This helps to stimulate conversation about the day's activities, get homework done, share kitchen chores and enjoy dinner together. (It's also a good idea to limit screen time before bedtime.)

• Technology Togetherness – With so many games available online or digitally, families can incorporate devices into games that can be played together.  Heads Up!, Family Trivia and other games from the app stores can be fun. You can even let various members of the family choose the game of the week.

• Hide and Seek Ringtones – In this game, one person sets a distinctive ringtone for a device and hides it. All the others must keep calling to locate it – the first one wins. Again, this game promotes family interaction.

• Goals and Rewards – If games are out, you can still help create new habits by establishing a system of goals and rewards. A centrally located "board" can help family members set goals for reducing screen time and/or record violations of established rules. Each can work toward rewards like gift cards to movie theaters, a favorite fast food restaurant or other activity destination they enjoy with friends (trampoline, putt-putt, etc.). Or they can earn cards that let them get out of a chore or pick the movie for family night. Get creative and provide goals and rewards that work best for your kids and family.

Even rule violations can be fun, yet effective. For example, having to perform a song or dance for the family, lip-sync, make a dessert, go last in a family game or some other consequence that makes the point, while still making them part of the fun. Use your judg​ment on when to use this type of consequence and ones that are a bit more severe.

Ultimately, you want to make everyone in the family aware of their use of devices and make them responsible for finding alternatives to screen time – and in the process, increase their happiness.

Learn more about the positives and negatives of the latest technologies – and ways to address them with your family. Sign up for our special Boys Town Kids and Technology E-mail Series.

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