This month marks the launch of Scroll Free September – RSPH’s digital health campaign that encourages people to regain control over their social media and tech-use by quite simply, stopping the scrolling.
To celebrate this campaign and provide you with some practical advice to help you achieve a balanced relationship with screens at home, we’re providing you with an extract from Tanya Goodin’s Stop Staring at Screens based on setting and maintaining clear boundaries within the home.
HAVE YOU SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES AT HOME?
When your phone is on the table during a family meal or furtively glanced at when you’re talking to someone, the message you’re sending to those you live with is “This device is more important to me than you.” Notice how it makes you feel when other people are doing this to you. Adults and children may rail against each other’s screen habits, but we can all be guilty of unwittingly prioritising our screens over spending time with our loved ones. How do we put screens back in their place?
Taking control of our devices, instead of allowing them to control us, is difficult. It’s inevitable that bad screen habits are easy to slip into. Smartphones, tablets, games consoles, and the software that runs on them are designed to be “sticky,” hard to ignore, and yes, addictive.
Digital designers study the ways our brains work and create features in their technology that give us surges of dopamine—the “feel-good chemical.”
Whether we’re playing on a games console or scrolling on a smartphone hoping for a text or a “like” on something we’ve posted on social media, our brains are waiting for tiny dopamine hits. As our dopamine levels rise, our brains respond by wanting more.
And this can start to affect our family life—when screen time encroaches on sleep hours and irritability and tiredness cause rows, or when mealtimes are a missed opportunity to reconnect because everyone is scrolling.
But lessening the hold that screens have over you is simple if you try a few techniques that I have used for a number of years now to help people reduce their time on screens. Being aware of the messages we are sending when we can’t put our screens down is the first step.
MAPPING THE HOUSE
Sit everyone down and sketch out a map of the house together to agree your family no-go zones for devices. Screens definitely don’t belong in the bedrooms of younger members of the family. But how about making that the rule for adults at home, too? And how many of us can honestly say we never take our devices into the bathroom? Consider marking bedrooms and bathrooms with an “X” on your map.
THE KITCHEN OR DINING ROOM
A strong family life revolves around the conversations we have at mealtimes. Meals are the main times when we can all get together and check in with each other about our day ahead or the day just ending. Sitting in silence and scrolling through your devices is not a good way to strengthen your connection. If you haven’t already banned screens in the kitchen or dining room, then this is a good place to start.
Tempting though it is to let everyone scroll on their devices during car journeys for the sake of a bit of peace, how about making the car a place where you all talk to each other, listen to music together, or even play a game? Sometimes the most valuable conversations between parents and children, or between partners, can happen in the car. Let’s not lose all those opportunities.