5 Steps for Creating a Healthy Media Diet

sm kid2A couple of years ago, I attended a luncheon where a counselor from ReStart spoke about internet addiction. ReStart is a clinic here in Washington that specializes in treating internet addiction, video game addiction and phone over use. For a while now, I had this half-written post on internet addiction kicking around in my folder. After reading Commonsense Media’s report on internet addiction, I decided to dig up this old post.

Many people struggle with balancing technology in their lives. Recently, Commonsense Media conducted a poll where they asked parents and teens about their digital device use. What they discovered was 50% of teens said they felt addicted to their devices.

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Teens spend a lot of time online. According to Commonsense Media Census, kids between the ages of 8 and 12 spend almost six hours a day and teens between the ages of 13 to 8 spend almost nine hours per day. This time does not include school or homework. These hours are for watching TV, playing video games, using social media, using the Internet, reading, and listening to music.

Excessive screen time does not automatically translate to an addiction. A diagnosis of addiction must meet certain criteria. Typically, the person experiences tolerance, withdrawal, compulsive use, and significant consequence in their lives. Studies vary widely on how prevalent this type of behavior is in the US. I have seen statistics from 0-26%. In fact, internet addiction is not a diagnosis officially recognized by the American Psychological Association.

While most of us are not “addicted” to the internet, many of us are overusing it or using it in an unhealthy way. Commonsense Media found that 69% of parents and 78% of teens check their device at least hourly. In a study by AVG, half parents felt they used their device too often. This same study found 54 percent of children felt that their parents checked their devices too often, and 32 percent of children felt unimportant when a device distracted their parents.

Moving through the day constantly checking a device can take us away from family and other activities. Technology is part of our lives. While it can be distracting, it can also connect us with friends, keep us informed, teach us new skill and help us make informed decisions. To make sure technology is a tool that enhances our lives and not an escape requires a conscious effort.

sm dietCreating a Healthy Media Diet.

Not all technology uses are equal. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken another look at screen time. While they still support limiting time for young children, they recommend prioritizing how a child spends their time and not just setting a timer. The quality of content is more important than the time spent with media.

One way to look at technology is like healthy eating. Families need to be mindful of how they are using technology. When families look at their time online, they may find too many chocolate bars and not enough carrots. While not everything one does online has to be filled with meaning, kids should see technology as a tool not just a respite from boredom.

If your media diet is full of sugar and not enough veg, here are 5 tips for finding balance in the digital age.


Surf with intent –What is not how long one is online but what they are doing online. Instead of hopping about, make a conscious decision by asking, “Why am I going online now?” While some mindlessly surfing or lurking on Facebook is fine, one should spend most of their time in productive, positive activities.

Schedule Online Activities– A quick glance can easily lead to a lost hour. When planning your day, schedule in digital time. By looking at this as a scheduled activity, parents can make sure kids are not displacing hobbies or other activities.

Step away– During the week, families should set aside some digital down time. Parents and kids can turn off devices aside during family meals and set a bedtime for devices. Families may also want to use an app, like Quality Time, that allows parents and kids to turn off notifications for a set time.

Stay focused –  Speaking of notifications, many apps ping and beep all day. Games like Clash of Clans will call to kids 24/7. When one hears that beep, there is often a rush to check in which takes one away from the immediate task. One way to end these distractions is by turning off unnecessary notifications. Some families may want to go so far as taking distracting apps off the phone and only checking them at set time on the desktop.

Set an example – Although last, this is the most important. Limiting your child’s phone should not be the first step. Parents need to model a healthy technology diet. By carving out device free time, limiting distractions and choosing healthy digital activities, parents can show kids how to incorporate technology in a positive way.

If you family is looking for that healthy balance where technology is adding and not taking away from relationships and activities, CommonSense Media has tips and resources for families on their Technology Addiction page.