Health & Science

Why Your Family Should Do A “Digital Reset” This Summer—And How to Pull It Off

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It’s now been well over a year since the coronavirus pandemic first forced most of the globe into lockdown. Most families have had to make big adjustments to their usual routines and move lots of their daily activities online. With so much time over the past year spent looking at screens out of necessity, lots of folks have been feeling the effects of excessive screen time—and 82 percent of parents report feeling concerned about it.

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical psychologist and expert on child development, specializing in children and technology. In an April webinar with the Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, she described the effects of excessive screen use in children as including the following:

  • “Pandemic impatience,” or increasingly impulsive behaviors and an inability to self-regulate;
  • Expressing fear or avoidance of school;
  • Increased anxiety or depression;
  • Insomnia or disruption of normal sleep routines.

As more and more people are getting vaccinated and returning to in-person activities, experts are strongly urging families to take advantage of any downtime they have coming up this summer to try a “digital reset.” Families are encouraged to reduce their screen use as much as possible during this time in order to offset any negative effects they may be experiencing from screen overuse.

As Dr. Steiner-Adair puts it, “Especially for kids, summer is a state of mind, in the sense that we think about slowing down. It’s also a really critical time for developmental tasks when we take the time to do those things.”

There are ways to make it easier

It can feel daunting to reduce screen time, especially if you know your kids won’t be big fans of the idea. It can help to pick some strategies for how you plan to transition kids from screens to offline activities in the moment, as well as some hacks for limiting the length of each screen time session. While many experts have agreed that screen time wasn’t a major issue during lockdown when we had so many other huge things to worry about, getting back to regular limits is definitely possible—and recommended—now.

Especially for families with school-aged children, the summertime is ideal for a digital reset because kids are less likely to have responsibilities that require screen time. Lots of families plan vacations and lots of outdoor activities during this time as well, which are perfect occasions for building in plenty of screen-free time.

Expert tips

Child development experts shared the following guidance for pulling off a digital reset with your family this summer: 

  • Slow down. As much as possible, make a conscious effort to slow down your family’s pace of life once school is over. Choose activities that take some time and don’t involve screens—like gardening, working on puzzles, or reading.
  • Take advantage of summer camp.  There are significantly more summer camp options available this year than there were last summer. Look into what’s available in your area, and take advantage of the opportunity for your child to be active and social, while also getting some time to yourself to reset.
  • Reconnect with nature. As Dr. Steiner-Adair puts it, “Those long summer days encourage us to reconnect with nature—and nature is hands down the best way to refresh your brain.” Build in scheduled outside time as much as possible during the summer.
  • Choose your own adventure! The best thing about summer for kids is all the free time to follow their own curiosities and interests. Let them channel their newfound freedom into things they may have missed doing during the school year, or new (off-screen) activities they’ve been wanting to try. 

Looking ahead

While taking the summer to reset, it’s also crucial to think ahead to the return to school and how to establish healthy digital habits going forward. Dr. David Schonfeld, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, emphasizes the extreme stress that the pandemic has put on all of us. Schools, parents, and caregivers should be conscientious of the grief and trauma kids may be living with, and aware of how too much screen time may exacerbate those feelings.

Dr. Schonfeld’s rule of thumb for mindful media consumption is to check in with yourself as you’re looking at content online. Is what you’re looking at reassuring to you? Is it teaching you something new and useful? If the answer to both of those questions is “no,” then it’s probably better to disconnect.

The upcoming school year may seem daunting after the last year and a half in pandemic mode, but using this summer to do a family digital reset can be a huge step towards starting off strong. Keep working towards reducing screen time as a family as much as possible to get the biggest benefits to your mental health and wellness.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.