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Ring in the New Year with These 12 Tips for Establishing Healthier Family Media Habits in 2022

With another challenging year coming to a close, now is the perfect time for parents and children to come together, take stock of all the lessons they’ve learned, and share their goals for the future. Cutting down on screen time is a common resolution in modern households, but it’s one that’s easier said than done, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to upend routines. How can parents ensure their children are using devices appropriately? How can they model positive behavior for their kids to emulate? How can they best promote healthy cognitive development in a world of 24/7 stimulation?
 

To answer those questions, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development has invited some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, clinicians, and researchers to share their top tips for making (and sticking to) New Year’s Resolutions for healthy media habits in 2022. Read on for helpful guidelines on screen time, sleep routines, device-free zones, family bonding, and more.

1. Encourage Family Bonding

Instead of focusing on screen time, develop New Year’s Resolutions that are positive and shared. Start by answering the question, “What do we want to do more of as a family?” Some examples might include game nights, hikes, or family dinners. Set fun, positive goals that can bond the family together and incidentally reduce screen time.  

– Meghan Owenz, Assistant Teaching Professor, PSU Berks and author of Spoiled Right: Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need. 

2. Monitor Screen Usage

Pay attention to smartphone usage through Screen Time (iPhone) or Digital Well-Being. Which apps does your child use the most? What’s the first app he/she opens after unlocking the phone? Which sites notify your child? Discuss weekly usage with the family. It’s not just the amount of screen time that you need to monitor, though. Research shows that using screens in the last hour before bedtime negatively affects sleep. The culprit is the blue light emitted by the screen, which lowers the release of melatonin (necessary for sleep) and increases the release of cortisol, which keeps you awake.
 
– Larry Rosen, Professor Emeritus CSU Dominguez Hills and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World 
 
3. Establish Digital Boundaries 

As a family, establish your digital borders and boundaries with your children. Have discussions that expand on “how much” time children are spending online and also consider where they’re using devices, when they’re using devices, what devices and platforms they can use, with whom they’re interacting online and how they’re using devices to ensure that their physical health and mental wellbeing are optimized.
 
– Kristy Gooodwin, PhD, researcher, speaker and author of Raising Your Child in a Digital World

​​4. Set Screen-Free Family Meals

When it comes to resolutions, bigger isn’t always better.  Setting a detailed, doable digital goal that can become a habit is the way to make a change that lasts.  Start with something like, “We will enjoy five screen-free family meals a week.” 
 
– Arlene Pellicane, MA, author of Screen Kids and host of the “Happy Home” podcast 
 
5. Focus Your Full Attention on Your Child

When interacting with your child, try to focus your full attention on them. When you come home from work or walk in the door from food shopping, it’s best not to be in the middle of texting or talking on your phone. Kids learn from their parents’ behavior and more often than not, it’s monkey-see-monkey-do. The way you greet your children is going to be the way they greet you.
 
– Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, PhD, Founder and President of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development
 
6.Turn Off Other Digital Devices

A key study in how technology impacts our behavior that has been replicated several times is the “iPhone effect.” Quite simply, it shows that if we have a digital device in our line of sight, even if switched off, it will impact our IQ and empathy negatively. Over the festive period, think of how that might impact you and your family during social times. For example, when watching television together try to only have the TV on and no other devices in line of sight. This might be hard at first, so introduce it in small doses and have a fun reward e.g. popcorn at movie night.
 
– Chris Flack, co-founder of UnPlug
 
7. Plan More Off Screen Activities

Plan more device-free activities like movie nights or family outings. Create phone-free zones in your world including the dinner table. Don’t let your child spend more than 90 minutes on screen time without taking substantive breaks of at least 30 minutes (you can set timers and give them a 5-minute warning to stop screen use). If they continue without stopping, tell them that if they don’t turn off the screens they will have less than 90 minutes the next time, but don’t completely take away their devices! Detoxing from screens doesn’t work and just causes other problems. 
 
– Larry Rosen, Professor Emeritus CSU Dominguez Hills and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World 
 
8. Set Aside Reading Time

Set aside one evening a week for reading time after dinner. Buy books or borrow books from the library that will interest your children. Unplug the modem and, without other options, books will become very attractive. Reading is a foundational and multisensory experience for children—from touching the paper, to picturing what is being written about, to building the self-control to stay focused on the written page. 
 
– Arlene Pellicane, MA, author of Screen Kids and host of the “Happy Home” podcast 
 
9. Look Beyond the Pandemic

As children return to school, many parents are looking for ways to dial back their children’s use of digital technology and social media. To do this, MARC research suggests that the most effective method is to discuss with your kids how screens were integral during the height of the pandemic, but now that life is beginning to settle into a more normal routine, it’s time to reconsider and discuss new family technology rules. Then do it. 
 
– Elizabeth K. Englander, PhD, Executive Director, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University.
 
10. Try A Family Book Club
Book clubs aren’t just for adults. Try a family book club – you pick a book one month, your child the next. (The “host” selects the refreshments!) For younger children, you or your child can read aloud. Whether you use print or digital books is your choice. What matters is that you both do the reading and then share together.
 
– Naomi S. Baron, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at American University and author of How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio
 
11. Create A Regular Digital Sabbath
You might choose one day each weekend to unplug, or one weeknight evening. You could do a YouTube free week, or a video game free month. Create these as challenges for your kids (and you can participate, too, as parents). It’s a great way to test who might be addicted to various forms of screen time in your home. Once you complete a challenge successfully, celebrate with a special meal or a non-digital toy. Repeat challenges throughout the year, not as a punishment, but as a way to recalibrate and keep your kids healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically.  
 
Arlene Pellicane, MA, author of Screen Kids and host of the “Happy Home” podcast 
 
12. Determine A Digital Curfew
As a family, determine the time when devices need to be switched off each night. A minimum of 60 minutes before sleep time is recommended to ensure that sleep quality and quantity aren’t impacted by blue light exposure. Have a specific ‘landing zone’ where digital devices go at night for charging and storage (a kitchen counter, study area, sideboard).
 
– Kristy Gooodwin, PhD, researcher, speaker and author of Raising Your Child in a Digital World
 
About Children and Screens
Since its inception in 2013, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, has become one of the nation’s leading non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing and supporting interdisciplinary scientific research, informing and educating the public, advocating for sound public policy for child health and wellness, and enhancing human capital in the field. For more information, see www.childrenandscreens.com or write to info@childrenandscreens.com.

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