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13 Tips for Teaching Device Etiquette at Home

Encouraging more family time often means disconnecting from our individual devices.

Kids looking at their smartphones while you’re trying to make conversation or playing video games when it’s time for dinner?

Encouraging more family time often means disconnecting from our individual devices. Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, shares his top tips for getting more face-to-face connection (and better sleep!) by setting time limits and tech-free zones, something Circle can help you do.

1. No screens (phones, tablets, laptops, TV, etc.) in bedrooms where children or teens sleep. When they go to bed the device should be elsewhere. The mere presence of a phone nearby will increase a stress hormone called cortisol. We will often check our phones to reduce our stress hormone level and this can become repetitive and compulsive.

2. Don’t use your smartphone as an alarm clock. No one needs a $600.00 alarm clock. They still make $10.00 alarm clocks!

3. Turn off as many notifications as possible. Notifications elevate the urge to use the phone and activate anticipatory dopamine in the mesolimbic brain reward pathways.

4. Never use any screen 1 hour (60 minutes) before bed. Viewing screens changes circadian rhythms and sleep patterns and increases risk of inadequate sleep, which many teens already suffer from. There is some evidence that the blue screen light also changes arousal and other brain functions.

5. Consider installing software or apps that monitor how much screen or smartphone time your child or teen consumes. This takes you out of the equation and your child will learn to budget how much time they have and help develop more mindful use of his or her technology. It also decreases the potential for arguments and conflicts between the parent and the child.

6. Remember, the Internet is the World’s Largest Slot Machine and the smartphone is the World’s Smallest Slot Machine. The Internet operates on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule and produces intermittent and unpredictable “hits” or “rewards” in the form of desired information, messages or content. You never know what you’re going to get, when you are going to get it and how good it is going to be—this is how a slot machine works and intermittent and anticipated rewards (via notifications) produce elevations of the neurochemical dopamine. When you get a notification, you get a little buzz, ding or a bell that tells you there’s a reward waiting. The elevation of dopamine from anticipated reward is twice as high as the actual reward itself. The intermittent reinforcements from our Internet-based technologies are potentially habit-forming and addictive.

7. Consider graying-out (setting the screen to black and white) the phone; this potentially makes the phone less appealing and stimulating.

8. Create a “Real-Time 100” of things that you or your child can do that don’t involve a screen. This can be a creative and fun task and reignite lost pleasures from real-time living skills.

9. Learn to tolerate boredom. Boredom is the gateway to creativity and social/interpersonal motivation. If we are always seeking instant distraction we never develop other internal self-soothing skills and the desire to extend beyond ourselves.

10. Never have the phone easily accessible while driving. Teens and adolescents (as well as adults) are very susceptible to distraction and are 6-7 times more likely to have an accident when using a smartphone while driving. The teen brain is less well developed in the frontal region of the brain where reasoning and judgment reside and are more prone to poor decision making than adults, but both are susceptible to distracted driving.

11. Never have the phone out during meals or on the table in restaurants; the idea is to create healthy boundaries around our technology use. The smartphone is NOT an eating utensil!

12. Remember there is no such thing as multitasking! Your child or teen will tell you there is, but there is not. We have to attend to one stream of information at a time and the more inputs we are monitoring the longer it takes to accomplish the tasks at hand.

13. The best way to help your child achieve mindful and sustainable technology use is to model the same behavior yourself; your child or teen is watching you and how you manage your tech use and they will be far more likely to adopt healthy technology use if they see you doing the same.

Disclaimer: These tips are intended for educational and informational purposes only. If you are concerned about your smartphone, Internet, or technology use you may wish to consult with a licensed mental health/addiction professional with expertise in Internet and Technology Addiction.


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