Digital detox: What you need to know about your kids and their technology

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
“We did crafts and we painted and we played with Little Miss Snowball,” 6-year-old Brecklyn said as she held up the family’s dog. “We did crafts and we painted and we played with Little Miss Snowball,” 6-year-old Brecklyn said as she held up the family’s dog.
Video games were replaced by board games. The Tanners spent more time together as a family. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Video games were replaced by board games. The Tanners spent more time together as a family. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
'The minute you have a child that's starting to tantrum or starting to demand it, I think that's a warning sign for the parent there's a dependence that's starting to develop,' Dr. Lisa Strohman said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 'The minute you have a child that's starting to tantrum or starting to demand it, I think that's a warning sign for the parent there's a dependence that's starting to develop,' Dr. Lisa Strohman said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: choreograph via 123RF) (Source: choreograph via 123RF)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

If you’re tired of only ever seeing the top of your child’s head because he or she is constantly looking down, attention monopolized by some digital device, you might have made a resolution to curb screen time.

Gilbert mom Taylor Tanner was all too familiar with that frustration and, fed up, was eager to take away the tech toys she believes run her family’s lives.

She makes a point to catch up with her kids after school to hear about their days. But it’s not long before they’re doing their own things, glued to their tech.

“It’s out of control,” Tanner said.

Her children, ages 4, 6, and 9, spend about two hours a day on electronics.

“Like right when they wake up, that's all they want to do,” she explained. “’Can I get on my iPad?’ ‘Can I watch TV, Mom?’ ‘Can we get on the computer, Mom?’ And I just am over it. They need to realize what life is like outside of electronics.”

[DIGITAL DETOX VIDEO: Part 1 and Part 2]

According to a nonprofit group called Common Sense Media, kids these days are spending more time than ever on screens. And it’s starting younger. The average daily amount of screen time for kids 8 and younger is 2.5 hours.

Tanner made a resolution for 2018 to cut back on electronics and share more family time. She was excited to try our challenge – cut out all tech toys for one week. A digital detox.

“I was talking to Daddy and I think it’s time we try something new,” she told her kids. “I want to see if we can go a whole week without any electronics.

No computers. No iPads. No TV. No video games.

While her 4- and 6-year-old were game to give it a go, 9-year-old Cooper did not want to give up his screen time.

“You can do it! I think it’ll be fun,” Tanner said to him as he shook his head no. “Well you’re gonna do it because we made an executive decision in the family.”

Tess Rafols asked him how he felt about the digital detox his mom mandated.

“Terrible,” he answered. “I don’t wanna do it.”

“They don't know how to just go outside and have their own fun, create on their own fun,” Tanner said. “They're more like dependent on electronics to find that fun for them, and I think they're gonna discover a whole new world.”

[STUDY: Kids get too much screen time, too little exercise]

“As long as I keep ‘em busy, I think they’re gonna be just fine,” she continued. “But it’s definitely gonna be a challenge.”

It wasn’t long before the kids were having a great time playing outside.

That was day one.

“I hope they rediscover their passion for things outside of electronics,” Tanner said.

“At the beginning, I didn’t feel good about it at all,” Cooper said at the end of his electronicless week. “But then it got better, better. And then I felt it wasn’t that bad at the end.”

So, how did it get better? Cooper remembered how much he loved building with Legos.

Video games were replaced by board games. The Tanners spent more time together as a family.

“Surprisingly, it went really well,” Tanner said.

It went so well that Tanner decided to extend her family’s digital detox to two weeks.

That precious time that I do have with them, I want to be present and I want them to be present with me.

“We did crafts and we painted and we played with Little Miss Snowball,” 6-year-old Brecklyn said as she held up the family’s dog.

“They just made their own fun,” Tanner said. “They got reminded of what they can do and they got creative. They had a blast and in turn we had a blast as a family.”

While Tanner was concerned that the extra together time might spawn fighting among the kids, the opposite happened, especially for the two older ones.

“I used to think she was really annoying,” Cooper said of his little sister. “Now I like her a little bit better.”

“All she wanted to do was play with them and they were always off in their own little world doing their own thing,” Tanner said. “Now, without those video games, they kind of had to play with Brecklyn.”

“I’ve talked to them more in the last two weeks than I had in the last few months just because I’m cool again,” Tanner continued. “I’m fun to play with. I may not be a video game, but I’m fun to hang out with and read with and color with and play Legos with. Before, it was just Mom. You know, just Mom. ‘Can I get something to eat, Mom?’”

Tanner loved “every bit” of her family’s digital detox.

“That’s why I extended it, and that’s why we’re probably going to continue it,” she said with a huge smile.

They got reminded of what they can do and they got creative. They had a blast and in turn we had a blast as a family.

To that end, electronics are off limits to the Tanner children during the school week.

“They’re gone enough,” Tanner explained. “That precious time that I do have with them, I want to be present and I want them to be present with me.”

Tech time is reserved for the weekends, and there is a limit.

Dr. Lisa Strohman, the founder and director of Digital Citizen Academy, says a digital detox can be a good idea.

The question is how much tech time is too much.

“I have kids, too,” Strohman said. “When you see your kids’ mood change or you see them disengaging … [or showing] a little bit of anxiety, short-tempered, irritability that isn’t usually there, those are some of the signs that it might be a little too much for them.”

The signs of addiction are similar.

[A REAL ISSUE: Is your child addicted to tech? Too much screen time can lead to later addictions]

“If you look at the science, which we’ve had for now two decades, … you see in the brain that we are actually changing our brain, even with technology, in the same patterns as we see with either a drug addiction or a food addiction or alcohol.”

Additional signs of too much technology include eye strain, trouble sleeping, lack of physical activity, neck strain and isolation.

While there are tremendous benefits to the tech toys our kids love so much, there’s a fine line between when it’s beneficial and when it becomes potentially harmful.

When you see your kids’ mood change or you see them disengaging … [or showing] a little bit of anxiety, short-tempered, irritability that isn’t usually there, those are some of the signs that it might be a little too much for them.

“Technology is here to stay. It’s amazing,” Strohman, who is a clinical psychologist, said. “It lets us do so much stuff. But with kids, it’s [about] balance.”

Strohman suggested that for every hour of screen time, you make sure they have offline activities for an hour.

[VIDEO: Kids and technology: Giving up the gadgets]

“Those are the things that I encourage parents to look at,” she explained. “We need to make sure that we have balance in our kids’ lives. They need to understand what interpersonal relationships are like -- offline.”

While there are no hard and fast rules, age is key to determining what is “developmentally appropriate” when it comes to tech.

Strohman said children 2 and younger “really don’t really need any technology.”

But what about all those learning apps?

According to Strohman, the science does not “pan out to show us that we’re really learning any more.”

That, like many other things, changes as they grow up.

“The older they get, the more dependent on technology they will [be] for education purposes,” she explained.

At that point, content comes into play in a big way.

Technology is here to stay. It’s amazing. “It lets us do so much stuff. But with kids, it’s [about] balance.

[WATCH: Unplug: Raising kids in a technology-addicted world]

“What they do online matters,” Strohman explained. “Educational based, creative thinking – great. The stuff like the social media and the gaming and all that stuff, not so helpful for the brain.”

[RELATED: ‘Gaming disorder’ to be recognized as mental health condition]

[AND THIS: Facebook: Social media scrolling can make you feel bad]

Strohman said that while a digital detox like the one the Tanners did can be good, “you can’t just cut ‘em off entirely.”

“You have to have balance with it,” she explained.

Kids love social media, but timing is everything. Strohman said the middle-school years are the most difficult in her experience.

“If you let your kids get on to social media prior to middle school, that’s when I see kind of the wheels come off the bus,” she said. “If you’re able to keep them off of it post-eighth grade, I think you’re going to have a much better turnout than you would if you let them get on during middle school years.”

Kids in high school tend to have more demanding schedules and they’re looking forward to their futures – college and careers. High schoolers also have had the chance to learn from mistakes they might have made – offline -- in middle school.

“When they make [mistakes] online, those are permanent,” Strohman said. “Those are things that will follow them.”

“If you can wait, keep ‘em off [social apps] until at least high school.”

If you let your kids get on to social media prior to middle school, that’s when I see kind of the wheels come off the bus.

Stohman said mirroring apps can be a good way to keep track of your child’s tech use. Such apps allow you to see exactly what he or she is doing online.

[SCREEN TIME SPECIAL REPORT: Controlling screen time for kids & teens]

[IT'S NOT JUST CHILDREN: Cellphone addiction]

[NOMOPHOBIA: Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain | Quiz: Are you too dependent on your smartphone?]


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