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Have you noticed that your kids—or you, or your partner—are increasingly glued to their screens? Whether you’re worried about the constant distractions, lack of quality family time, digital addiction, or negative mental health effects of the media they’re consuming (or all of the above), it may be time for a digital detox.
Reducing the amount of time spent on digital devices and social media can have lots of benefits for kids: it encourages them to develop their creativity, work on in-person social skills, learn to find inner peace, boost their self-esteem, and sleep better. Many adults could benefit from a digital cleanse too, for similar reasons—plus, setting a good example for kids is one of the most important ways to teach them healthy habits for the long term.
A digital detox challenge doesn’t have to mean ditching your phones cold-turkey for the entire month (unless that’s something you want to try!). Even smaller reductions in screen time—along with some reflection on its effects—can help you learn healthier habits for interacting with digital devices, as well as healthier habits for interacting in real life.
Let these 30 ideas and activities inspire you to overhaul your family’s relationship to technology, so that your time spent online is working for you, not against you.
1. Log the hours
If your family members aren’t convinced they need a digital detox, challenge them to keep track of the time they spend on their devices in a typical day. They might be surprised at how many hours of the day or week they spend on video games, texting, social media scrolling, or binge-watching.
2. Bucket list
Encourage everyone to make a list of screen-free things they would love to do this month. Once you get thinking, you’ll realize the possibilities are practically endless and could include family outings, new hobbies, sports or fitness goals, creative projects, books to read, home improvement projects, cooking adventures, and more. Then pick a few activities from each person’s list, and actually schedule them on the calendar!
3. Plug in together
Move chargers to a central/shared location in the house to encourage everyone to leave their devices there, rather than bringing them into bedrooms. This promotes more family time and less alone-on-screens time.
4. Turn off WiFi
Make it a habit of simply switching off the WiFi at nighttime so that no one is tempted to bring phones/tablets into bed. Having a designated “screens off” time an hour before bedtime can go a long way in gaining you all some much-needed sleep! Make it a family discussion so that everyone is on board with the switch-off time.
5. Let go of apps
Have each family member swipe through their devices to take stock of which apps are actually necessary or improving their lives, versus which ones are just a waste of time or causing additional stress. While you’re at it, check for any apps that could be unsafe for kids. See if everyone can find three apps to trash—or at least to offload and take a break from for the rest of the month.
6. Turn off notifications
For the apps that you do decide to keep, consider whether you really need all of those notifications dinging at you all day. Simply turning off notifications can help you focus on other tasks better without the constant interruptions.
7. Phone-free day
Choose a day to go on a family nature walk or outing, or dive into a big hands-on project around the house for a few hours, with the expectation that no one will take pictures or check their phones for the entire time. When you’re done, try an exercise where you all write or draw about your experience, or have a conversation about what you noticed while going screen-free.
8. Science of screens
Learn together with kids about what lots of screen time and social media exposure can do to your brains—from structural changes in the development of young kids’ brains to a chemical addiction to social media. This will help skeptical kids understand the reasons behind your digital detox efforts.
9. Brain hacks
Digital detox doesn’t have to be a drag. It feels difficult to give up screen time in part because people get addicted to the dopamine that’s released from many online activities like interactive games and chatting. But you can stimulate the release of happiness hormones yourself, no internet needed! Once you’re thinking about your brain and mental health, learn about these other ways to boost the “happiness chemicals” in your brain.
10. Vintage devices
Dig out a neglected CD player, tape player/recorder, record player, radio, etc., and show kids another way to entertain themselves without screens. They might have a ton of fun raiding an older relative’s music collection, or making their own old-school mixtape. Younger kids might enjoy a disconnected rotary/landline phone or computer keyboard that they can simply press the buttons on and pretend.
11. Online safety talk
As soon as kids are old enough to use devices independently, it’s time to teach them about online safety. Here’s a script you can use to start this ongoing conversation. You can continue the discussion with this script about safe vs. unsafe ways to make friends online.
12. IRL friendship
Older kids might resist spending less time on their devices because that means they’re missing out on communicating with their friends. So help them brainstorm a list of other ways to enhance connections with the people they care about, whether it’s sending postcards and care packages, making collages with printed photos, or leaving handwritten notes in lockers to invite friends to a pizza night.
13. Library haul
Bring the whole family to the library to stock up on books, magazines, audio books, and more to help you occupy your screen-free hours. Some libraries also provide craft kits and other kids’ activity sets, in-person classes, free museum passes, and other ideas for things to do as a family—just ask!
14. Parental controls
Check safety, privacy, and family-friendly settings on all of your devices and apps. See these parental control tips for the 6 most popular apps, and read Common Sense Media’s guide to parental controls to understand more of your options for the devices your kids use.
15. Visual inspiration
Show kids that visual creativity is not limited to videos and digital pictures. Challenge the whole family to draw something on paper, make a collage or mosaic, or develop a roll of film from a non-digital camera. You might learn something or find a new hobby!
16. Audio exploration
Try out some alternative ways to get news and consume compelling stories as a family—without having to watch so many videos or read so much on your screen. For example, look into kids’ story podcasts, family radio stations such as WEE Nation Radio, audio books, family-friendly news podcasts, and parenting podcasts.
17. Interview an elder
Encourage your kiddo to ask you or an older relative or neighbor about the pros and cons of life before smartphones and internet access. They might be amazed by the archaic inconveniences (doing research using a library card catalog, having to be home at a certain time to watch your favorite TV show) but also gain appreciation for the skills of the older generation (memorizing phone numbers, writing letters longhand, sticking to social plans).
18. Address FOMO
If kids are experiencing anxiety due to what they may miss out on while taking a break from their favorite digital platform, don’t brush it off—talk through it with them. You can turn it into a fun conversation that also helps them see social media from another perspective: Do you feel more FOMO while you’re scrolling on social media or while you’re taking a break from social media? What would so-and-so be posting right now? How many pictures do you think they’d actually take before posting their favorite one? What kind of comments would they be hoping to see?
19. Media review
Have each family member make a list of all the TV series, video games, YouTube channels, news sites, etc. that they spend a significant amount of time on. Then have them think about the pros and cons of each media source and how it affects them. Maybe they’ll be inspired to cut down on the shows/games that are mindless addictions, and focus on the ones that lead to better outcomes (such as learning, social interaction, or real-life motivation).
20. Hold a contest
If your kids are intensely competitive, suggest a contest to see who can go the longest without their phone or tablet, or who can go until the end of the day/week/etc. Lock the most addictive devices in a drawer, or delete everything except school-related apps (and set a parental control that doesn’t allow them to download new apps). Agree beforehand on a reasonable reward for the winner—like getting to choose your next takeout meal.
21. Turn off auto-play
If YouTube, Netflix, or other video apps tend to take up too much of your or your kids’ attention, see if you can change the settings so that next episodes or recommended videos won’t keep playing automatically, causing you to watch for way longer than you intended to.
22. Phone hiding spot
Create a designated spot—such as a drawer or hard-to-open box—for family members to “hide” their phones during family bonding time or while doing homework so that they won’t be tempted to check their notifications.
23. Ad exercise
Without turning on any screens, ask your family to list all of the ads they remember seeing recently. You’ll probably be surprised at how many product names, logos, catchy jingles or phrases, and advertisement plots, jokes, and images that you’re all storing in your brains. That may help you pay more attention in the future to the messages you’re getting from ads, as well as the time you typically spend watching or viewing them.
24. Start a bulletin board
To center the family’s attention around a non-digital hub, start a bulletin board in a central location where anyone can pin activities and ideas of interest, write notes on a white board or chalkboard, draw silly pictures, update the family calendar, and more. Involve the kids in setting it up, and get creative!
25. Password update
Protect your family from identity theft, cyberbullying, hacking, and other online threats by updating passwords to stronger and harder-to-guess codes. Encourage each person to create a notebook of written passwords, or a password management account, that they won’t share with anyone outside of the family. Turn on two-step verification where you can.
26. Recycle old devices
Find out where you can safely dispose of old phones, computers, chargers, and more in your community. Check Earth911 to find recycling locations in your area. Rounding up these old devices and going as a family to drop them off might start a great discussion about ever-changing technology and the waste it can generate.
27. Code of conduct
Consider whether your family needs a written set of rules for technology use—to make it easy, you can download our Family Technology Contract and personalize it to your family’s needs. This contract could include safety rules like “no sharing photos or personal information with people you haven’t met in real life” as well as family rules like “no devices at the dinner table.” Don’t just spring this contract on the family—have an open conversation with kids and your partner about what rules are realistic and necessary, so that everyone is on board.
28. Set limits
To set yourself and your family up for finding a better life/device balance after your digital detox is over, you can use the positive power of technology—yes, a new app—to actually help you limit screen time or be more aware of time wasted on certain apps. You can then compare notes about how you’re all doing with the self-imposed limits you’ve set.
29. Unfollow accounts
If certain content is causing more stress and anxiety than it’s worth, it’s a good time to cut it loose. So, when (or if) you choose to return to social media or news apps after taking a break, consider which accounts you could unfollow, people you could block, or settings you could change to make your experience a more positive one.
30. Board game night
If you enjoyed this, check out our other 30-Day Challenges for families!
- 31 Day Family Mental Health Boost Challenge
- 30-Day Family Spring Bucket List Challenge
- 30 Day Love Challenge
- 30 Day Creativity Challenge
- 30 Day Family Self-Care Challenge
- 30 Day Family “Say Something Nice” Challenge
- 30 Day “Get Outdoors” Family Challenge
- 30 Day Family Brain-Boosting Challenge
- See them all here!
And don’t forget to get your free printables for each of these fun and connection-building challenges!