How to Manage Your Kids’ Screen Time Habits with an ‘Electronic Fast’

Is your child addicted to their device and struggling with emotional, learning, sensory or behavioral issues?

At a recent ParentEd Talks event presented by Chicago Parent as part of a series of conversations with parenting experts, Dr. Victoria Dunckley, a child psychiatrist and author who specializes in the effects of electronic screen time on children’s brains, she believes an intervention – or electronic fasting – can produce life-changing changes in brain function, resulting in marked improvements in mood, of focus, sleep and behavior.

An electronic fast is said to reset the nervous system, or fight what she calls electronic screen syndrome. The elements of an electronic fast include removing all devices from a child for at least four weeks. With the exception of a school computer, this means no video games, iPads/tablets or smartphones. No social media, texting, viewing photos on a phone, no laptop use, etc.

dr Dunckley, also author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, offers tips and best practices for implementing electronic fasting in your home.

10 ways to implement an electronic fast with children

1. Define your goals

Establish your plan for success by identifying the target areas and goals for your child. dr Dunckley suggests looking at the following areas to measure before and after: emotional, behavioral, school, social, and physical. Once you’ve determined what you want to track, start measuring, counting, or scoring the issues to create a baseline for evaluating gains.

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2. Talk to your child about electronic fasting

Tell your child about the fast a few days before implementing it so they have time to process the idea and ask questions. Listen to their concerns, but don’t allow them to argue or negotiate. If they are upset, validate their feelings and comfort him or her, but stand your ground. Be clear and calm, and highlight other activities and special treats that replace screen time.

3. Make it a family fast

The whole family should fast together to give the child a sense of not being punished. Make it fun by letting each family member take turns coming up with a different activity to replace screen time. Note: If adults and older siblings need screen time, they should try to do it outside of the home or when the child is sleeping.

4. Make sure everyone is on board

Make sure all caregivers – grandparents, babysitters, coaches, etc. – are on board without screens during the fast. Also inform the teachers.

5. Perform a thorough screen sweep

Have all family members drop off their electronics in an equipment basket. Look from the top down of your home, cars, and anywhere devices might be lurking. Remove the devices from the house. Make sure your child doesn’t use other devices outside the home.

6. Stock up on toys, games, and activities to replace screen time

dr Dunckley warns parents not to be afraid of unplanned, unplanned time. She encourages them to prepare for the fast by collecting a range of non-screen items for a child to play with, including games, books, and planned family outings.

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7. Don’t give up

dr Dunckley says the first few days won’t be easy, as your child may feel angry, anxious, or upset as they learn to live without screens. Stick to the plan and don’t back down. This too shall pass.

8. Monitor the progress

Talk to your child to see how they are doing without screens. Write down any changes you’ve noticed related to the goals you’ve set.

9. Decide if the fast was effective

Have you noticed a positive change in your child’s behavior, sleep, or school? If not, consider extending the fast and doing a reassessment, or raise other concerns with your child’s doctor.

10. Decide whether screens should be eliminated or moderated

If the reset is successful, parents should decide whether to continue going screenless or attempt to reintroduce screens, proceeding very slowly and tracking.

Looking for more parenting tips from the experts? Sign up for the remaining 11 ParentEd Talks with one ticket!

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