How to Avoid Smartphone and Social Media Burnout in your Family

Written By Soren Kenner and Imran Rashid

Excessive use of smartphones and social media may lead to stress, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, concentration issues, lowered self-esteem, and more. But just how big is the problem and what can you do to avoid it in your family?

In a recent report, the UK Chief Medical examiner advises parents to limit children’s access and screentime and to keep phones away from the dinner table and out of the bedroom. The report points to three areas of concern:

How much time do children spend online

What they actually see online

Persuasive (also known as addictive) design

The overall recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer is to limit screen time and balance it with family time. But is that enough?

We recently undertook an extensive survey of current research on the connection between smartphones, social media, stress, sleep disturbances, and lack of focus. Many of these studies paint a grim picture of the (perhaps unintended) side effects of extensive use of smartphones and social media.

A Gigantic Social Experiment

Smartphones and social media have caught on like wildfire – at this point in time more than half of the world’s population uses social media. The resulting economy is of a stupendous size: the combined value of tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook now rival the annual GDP of the UK. In essence, this spectacular growth is the largest social experiment ever undertaken and we have no clear idea where it will take us.

What we do know is that extensive use of smartphones and social media causes rewiring of children’s brains (a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity) and that the list of possible side effects include stress, lowered self-esteem, FOMO (fear of missing out), decision fatigue, problems focusing and concentrating, sleep disturbances, cognitive dissonance, digital tribalism, lowered empathy and cyber-bullying.

Obviously, not every child using a smartphone is going to get hit by every single possible side effect but here are some signs to look out for:

Mood Swings – especially anger and frustration if you try and limit your children’s access to smartphones and social media.

Changes in Sleep Patterns – difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night (to check their phone).

Trouble Concentrating – difficulty managing school work on time and having a hard time getting started on homework (the phone is more fun).

Being Secretive – refusing to share information on what they do online or who they interact with.

Being more Online than Offline – where the phone or tablet and social media is exerting more pull than friends, sports, family, hobbies etc.

So what can you do if you begin observing some of these symptoms? It’s pretty simple, really (albeit not easy).

Be Present and Focused

Spend time interacting with your children and stay focused on them: what are they are doing, what are they excited about, what they would like to do? Being there for them with your full attention makes a huge difference.

Be a Role Model

Remember, kids don’t do what you say, they do what they see you do. So put the phone away when you are with them and interact instead.

Make their Phones Less Addictive

Ask your children to turn off notifications on their phones and in their social media feeds. This way the pull of the phone or tablets gets less and they have an easier time disconnecting.

Schedule Screentime

Make an online schedule – it could be after homework, or between 5 pm and 7 pm or after dinner or whatever works in your home. Make sure you stick to what you have agreed.

Introduce Alternatives

Try out some of the many good alternatives to being online. Play board games, solve puzzles, read books, draw, learn to play the piano! The real gold here is doing these activities together.

In conclusion: yes, children are at risk but there is plenty you can do about it. It requires being observant and takes discipline on your part. What you get in return though is not just saving your kids from smartphone burnout but also spending more quality time with them. What’s not to like?

Soren Kenner and Imran Rashid (GP) have researched and written extensively on the risk factors associated with excessive use of smartphones and social media. Their book called Offline is on Amazon and in bookstores now.

With thanks to Families Magazine for the contribution, this article was originally published in their print magazine. You can read the latest article here.

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