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Put Down the...Screen? Part Two

It’s no secret that we need to be on screens for many things we do in everyday life. Work, school, and even entertainment is all delivered on either a small cell phone screen or an enormous television screen or computer monitor we are often sitting right in front of.

In Part One, I discussed the fact that cutting back or eliminating screen time is very challenging, especially for young people. I outlined the various signs that maybe you’re having an issue with screen time. If you want to read that article, you can find it HERE.

Regarding your kids, current research shows that sometimes even until the age of nine, excessive screen time leads to potential learning issues, behavioural problems, and even reduced brain development in certain areas. This is because of the dopaminergic effects, which have a massive impact on young children. As adults, we have a slightly easier time because our brains have fully developed, but we can still experience problems that come along with excessive screen use.

These can manifest themselves in shorter attention spans (know anyone who’s been diagnosed with ADHD lately?), and also the major life-altering signs of addiction such as it affecting your home life and relationships. If you’re experiencing any of this, I encourage you to reach out to a person who can help you through those issues. Having a healthy mind along with a healthy body is vital to feeling better every day.

So what’s the solution, or at least some ways to help the situation? There are three ways you can help yourself (and others) cut back on screen time and reorient your dopamine response. They might seem obvious, but if you put them into practice, it can be quite challenging for many people, which is truly a sign that it is something needing to be addressed.

The first thing I want to address is if you have a child who has behavioural issues due to screen time. This is akin to any other addictive behavior, and unfortunately, that means it requires a slow detox of the screen influence over the child. Yes, detox – like a drug addict or alcoholic would experience. Otherwise, the child in question can lash out and have some serious cognitive distress, just like an alcoholic can have physical distress if they go cold turkey.

Instead, for severe digital detox clients (not the moderate ones, but the ones that are playing games over 8 hrs a day and have been violent), you need to titrate/taper/detox gradually. This minimizes discomfort and aggressive behaviour. This entails gradually cutting back screen time over 3-5 days (but not allowing ANY violent gaming or violent or aggressive adrenaline-surging movies or screen content).

The person in question can watch some television, sports, some non-gaming YouTube videos, sit-coms, older slower [1]paced movies, etc. The idea is to have less stimulating adrenaline inducing input, and more calming things to enjoy.

Screen Detox Protocol:

Day One: 2 Hours of above-style content

Day Two: 90 Minutes

Day Three: 60 Minutes

Day Four: 30 Minutes

Day Five: 15 Minutes

While we are titrating down the screen usage, we are raising the level of real-life dopamine/adrenaline experiences. This means that you are introducing things like physical activity outside (without screens), card games or board games, reading books that aren’t on a tablet or phone, or playing music. These are simply examples of activities you can try to add to the child’s life to increase their amount of authentic life experiences.

As adults, we tolerate things much better than children. However, there is still possibly a big need to cut back on-screen time because of the difficulties you are having. So here are some practical tips to try that can help you diminish your screen time and reclaim some of your screen free time:

1: Digital Detox (done once a week). Choose a day and actively decide to avoid screens on that day. This might mean putting your phone in a drawer or giving it to a loved one to keep for you. Choose to perform more activities like the ones outlined for children, like exercising (especially outside), and even attempt to go places and run errands without your phone. The best day for this is obviously on a weekend when there isn’t a lure of being on a screen for work. Notifications go off as well so you don’t hear anything, even vibration.

2: Substitute tangible means of entertainment for screen forms of entertainment. This means choosing to play a board game instead of playing a video game. It can mean reading a proper book instead of one on your tablet. It can mean doing workouts without the aid of a video right in front of you rather than watching one on your Peleton. As I mentioned before, this doesn’t have to be done cold turkey and can be gradually implemented.

3: Ironically, nowadays, it’s also easier to set boundaries even within your screen devices. For example, you can set certain apps like social media to block access after certain amounts of time. This is more for people who spend lots of time on social media or phone video games. It’s a gentle reminder that ultimately you are in control of what you are doing, but also a way to make sure you are accountable to avoid going down the rabbit hole of screen time.

4: Another boundary you can set is simply not responding to things immediately when you receive them. Force yourself to wait five minutes or even ten to respond to a DM or a text. Even often work emails can wait rather than giving your body the response to immediately kick into gear and answer. Sometimes you can even wait an hour to respond to something and there is no major issue with it. Reclaim your time.

While screen time is a necessary part of society, it definitely can be moved in a more positive direction for both us and our partners and children. If you implement a couple of the strategies I’ve outlined, you can reclaim some of your time and energy, and your brain will also thank you.

The results I have heard through my practice are feeling calmer, sleeping better, and also connecting with your partner and family on a much higher level. Are these things you are looking for? Try it.

If you need further help or to talk to someone about your situation, please contact me for a brief phone call and I’d be happy to discuss your individual needs. Talking to someone about mental health is vital in today’s environment. And, if you enjoyed the article please share it, comment, and follow me on social media.

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