13 Signs Your Family Needs a Digital Detox: How to do it step by step

Do you or your kids need a digital detox? It’s no secret that screen time can be addictive. For many of us, it’s hard to put our phones down, especially when we’re bored or lonely. And for kids, screen time is often their only source of entertainment these days. 

two boys on tablets

Did you know that according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children 8 to 12 years old in the U.S. spend four to six hours per day watching or using screens, while teenagers may spend up to nine hours per day watching screens?

This can be a problem if we’re not careful. 

If you’re starting to feel like your family needs a digital detox, don’t worry–you’re not alone! In this article, we’ll discuss the signs that your family needs a detox and how to do it step by step. But first, let’s discuss the end goal.

Digital Wellness in a Digital Age

If you’re anything like me, you want your kids to grow up in a space that allows digital technology, but in a way that is beneficial for their lives, not detrimental. And that’s the whole point of this detox.

Digital usage can either sink us or benefit us. And it’s ALWAYS our choice, which is why you, the parent, should recognize that you’re the example that will pave the way for digital wellness in your home.

The point is not to eliminate digital technology because we fear it. We want to be good stewards of it — it’s called digital mastery, digital literacy, or digital wellness — to not allow digital technology to control us but rather use it for our benefit.

Read more about what Pinwheel has to say about digital literacy here.

So now that we understand the end goal — digital wellness — let’s talk about the common signs that might require a screen time detox, which can help us live in harmony with technology, not allow it to control or affect us negatively.

dad and son arguing over ipad

Signs That Your Family Needs a Screen Time Detox

The first step is to be aware of the signs that your family needs a detox. Here are some common signs of too much screen time:

  • You feel like you’re constantly checking your phone, even when you don’t need to.
  • Your kids are addicted to screen time and can’t seem to put their phones down.
  • You feel like you’re always in a rush and don’t have time for anything else.
  • You feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
  • You feel like in order to feel peace you need to put your kids in front of a screen. 
  • You find yourself aimlessly wandering through the metaverse and lose track of time.
  • You are spending more time on your phone than with your family.
  • Your emotions and feelings are often governed by the contents of your phone. 
  • Your kids freak out when you ask them to be done with their screen time.
  • You aren’t connected with your loved ones on a meaningful level. 
  • You’re often distracted from your work or getting things done. 
  • Your tween or teen is struggling with insecurity or self-image, having thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • Your child is acting out behaviorally, especially following screen time. 

Listen, all of us have experienced some of these symptoms at one point or another. This article isn’t meant to guilt trip you or make you feel like a bad parent or person. But if your desire is to create an environment of digital wellness so that your family thrives instead of survives, then it starts with a little humility. It starts with you, the parent. 

Being the example

As a parenting educator and coach, one of the biggest points I continue to drive home is the fact that you’re the example of everything to your child. You are influencing them day in and day out, in both negative and positive ways.

And it’s your choice as to what your influence will be. What kind of example do you want to set? So if you’re considering this detox for your kids, but not for yourself, you might want to think again.

Most often, parents think that their kids need to be the ones to change. But how much time are YOU spending on your devices? Are you more aware of the contents of your phone than the details of your child’s life?

Being a good example is a big responsibility if you think about it. One that we shouldn’t take lightly. In your actions and words, you can be the one to set the tone and the example in your home. 

kids playing outside

It’s okay to not be a part of the NORM

I strive to remember as a mom that I don’t need to give in to what’s considered “normal.” 

I know it’s normal for kids to be on electronic devices for hours throughout the day. I know it’s normal that kids are developing screen time addiction at an early age. I know it’s normal that parents allow their tweens or teens to have smartphones with social media and the internet. I know it’s normal that the average family only spends 37 minutes of intentional time per day together. 

But I’ve never been on to follow the crowd or make sure I’m doing what’s considered “normal.” Just because it’s normal and everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. 

Even though we don’t have extensive data on the negative impacts of screen addictions or excessive use of digital devices, we do have some. Studies show that screen time can increase anxiety and depression. It’s also been linked to behavioral problems, poor school performance, obesity, a lack of sleep, and even suicidal thoughts in teens. Your child will most likely experience cyberbullying at some point. They are more in danger of being trafficked or being exposed to age-inappropriate content.

Safeguard your kids on their screens

One way to safeguard your child against such things is to install a parental control app like Bark on their devices or get them a Pinwheel Kids Phone or Gabb wireless phone, which I will discuss more of later on in this article.

But the more data we have on digital technology and how it affects our children doesn’t really matter at this point because all you need is your own personal experience with screen addiction or excessive use.  

The bottom line is this: screen time is not good for our brains, especially when it comes to developing healthy habits, nurturing creativity, having quality time together, and experiencing life outside the metaverse. Don’t think excessive and unmonitored use is okay for your kids just because it’s “normal” or “common.”

girl and mother sad

Don’t be too extreme as to push your kids away

But there is another side that I would like to discuss, and that’s when you become too strict as to push your kids away. I remember reading an article a while back about a mom who desired to make her home the “fun place.” It was her intention to allow ALL THE THINGS so her kids didn’t go elsewhere to look for it; so her kids and their friends would opt in to hang at their place where she could keep an eye on things.

I agree, but only to some extent. I don’t allow everything, but I allow my 11-year-old to play video games in moderation and age-appropriate, non-addictive games.

I allow him to have his friends over to play video games for a few hours, as long as they go outside and do other things as well. I allow occasional fun snacks like Doritos and Oreo’s, as long as he gets his healthy food as well. You see, it’s all about balance!

I want our home to be a fun place! But fun doesn’t only have to mean video games and unhealthy food. It can also mean having fun together in other ways with our friends alongside video games and fun snacks.

Make sure you establish a plan before starting your detox

When doing a digital detox, it’s important you have a plan to make sure your kids remain stimulated, entertained, and feel that you desire to spend time with them. That doesn’t mean you need to be their entertainment the whole time. But especially at the beginning of the detox, make sure you are spending face-to-face time together, doing things your KIDS love. This will eliminate the power struggles and other detoxing symptoms. 

Sure, your kids will be frustrated with the new boundaries. But help ease them into it by making the detox worth their while. They need some time to recognize that life is wonderful outside of video games and technology

And make sure you reward their success with something. Maybe it’s even playing video games together or watching a movie as a family!

family discussing something

Things to consider before doing a digital detox

Before you make the commitment for your family to detox from screen time, it’s important to consider these things. 

First, you’re going to have to allow yourself and your family a few rough days. Detoxing from anything, let alone something that entertains you and your kiddos, will be a lot on you and your children. So make sure you have the time and energy to get everyone adjusted. Have grace for yourself and your kids as you figure out a healthier way of life.

Secondly, decide on a time frame of how long the detox will be. I would suggest trying it for at least a week. But make sure it’s something that’s achievable for you and your family so that you don’t find yourself giving up before you begin. 

Third, it might benefit you to start with reducing screen time instead of cutting it out completely. Then once everyone adjusts to that, have days where you go without it completely. If you work from your phone or computer, you can adjust accordingly. 

Fourth, make sure all of your family members are on board. Don’t spring it on your kids out of nowhere. Prepare them for it. Talk about WHY you’re doing it and the goals you have in mind.

Lastly, have a plan for when screen time is allowed again. This is really important because if there’s no set structure, screen time can easily become an addiction once again. So make sure there are specific guidelines that everyone agrees to follow.

Here are some benefits of doing a digital detox

  • Your family will connect on a deeper level without the digital detractions
  • You will find yourself reflecting more on life and your relationships
  • You will be less influenced by the metaverse, allowing yourself to figure things out for yourself
  • You will be more creative and productive in your work
  • Your family will get along better because there won’t be any screen-time related distractions
  • You’ll have more energy and a better attitude 
  • Your emotions won’t be swayed by the contents of your phone
  • Your kids will be more open to creativity and thinking of ways to entertain themselves

What type of detox is right for your family?

The next step is to figure out what kind of detox your family needs. There are many different types of detoxes, so it’s important to find the right one. 

If you’re struggling with screen time addiction, then a digital detox is what you need. If it’s excessive use of technology that’s causing problems in your family, then an analog detox might be more beneficial. Analog detoxing means unplugging from all screens: phones, computers, TVs, etc. 

You can also adjust your detox according to your needs. For example, let’s say you need to use your phone for safety or work reasons, but you want to stop using social media. Or let’s say you’re kids don’t struggle so much with watching a show or movie, but video games are having negative impacts on their behavior — detox from video games for a bit but allow movies.

So find the one that fits your family’s needs and start there.

Once you’ve decided on the type of detox, it’s time to begin the process. Here are some steps to get started:

boy looking at phone

How can I detox my children from their screens?

Establish tech boundaries and ENFORCE them

For our family, we allow video games only on the weekends, and only for a set amount of time after they have accomplished their screen time checklist. We find that it’s important to not only finish their chores, but to spend time outside, be creative, and do kind things for one another. 

Sure, it might seem like sometimes they do it just to check it off their list. But even as adults, sometimes that’s how we learn. We have to set ourselves boundaries in order to learn healthy habits. 

Do we always FEEL like it? No. But we make the right choice anyway. Our kids need those same boundaries. You might not see it come naturally at first, but over time, you will see their attitudes and perspectives change. 

Join them on the detox

Remember what I said about being the example? If you can join your kids on the digital detox, then try and do that! If you work from your phone or need to be checking emails, then try detoxing from something else, like social media.

Set screen-free times and days

This is an easy way to start the detox. Pick a time of day when everyone will put their devices away and enjoy conversation or family activities without any interruptions. You can move from this to entire days to help ease your family into it. 

Have a technology-free zone in your house

This can be a hard one, but it’s definitely doable. Maybe the living room is the technology-free zone or maybe the whole house except for one specific room. The point is to create an environment where screen time isn’t an option. 

Make screen time more difficult

If you make screen time harder to access, people will be less likely to use it. For example, if your phone is always charging in your room at night, leave it there and make that the place you are allowed to check your phone. If you’re downstairs most of the day, it’ll be an extra trek to get it so you aren’t mindlessly checking your phone all day. 

Or if there is a certain app you find yourself continuing to check, delete it off your phone for a while.

You can also consider getting Bark Home or the Bark app installed on your child’s devices. You can read all about its features in my detailed review article here. Make sure your kids are safe online and on social media through content monitoring!

If you have a child who is old enough for a phone but aren’t old enough for social media or searching the internet, check out the Pinwheel Kids Phone. My 11-year-old son has had one for a while now and we love it. I don’t have to worry about him seeing or hearing things he shouldn’t.

Read my full review here and make sure to click this link if you get one! You will get an automatic 10% off your purchase!

Reward good behavior with screen time

Once you see your family making progress, reward them with screen time. But make sure they know that screen time is not an automatic right; it’s something they have to earn. Check out my Mandalorian-themed Screen Time Checklist.

Ban screen use during meals 

Eating meals together can make incredible bonding moments. And when screens are interrupting or making those times less meaningful, then eliminate that. Try playing this game (use link to get 15% off!) instead! This card game will evoke meaningful conversations and make it hard for your teen to be upset that they aren’t allowed to use their phones at the dinner table. 

Create screen-time limits for different types of media 

For example, screen time may look different for screen time spent gaming than screen time spent on reading or learning. So set limits that are appropriate for each category and stick to them. 

Make sure you have parental controls on all devices  

This one is a no-brainer. If you don’t have parental controls on all devices, install them now! You can find out how to do this for every kind of device on this article about keeping your kids safe online. 

Have an electronics-free day each week

Again, start small by having an electronics-free day and work your way up to an entire week or even month. 

Keep screens out of bedrooms and away from bedtime

There should be no screen-time devices in your child’s bedroom. This is a place of rest and relaxation. You don’t want screen time to ever interfere with sleep. You can also try this for yourself if possible! I know I sleep SO much better when I haven’t looked at my phone for at least an hour before bed. 

Instead, read books, do puzzles or crafts, or play games as a family. 

Get everyone involved in a shared activity outside of the home

You will have the most success with a screen time detox when you can still find ways to have fun and connect with one another. Often, that’s the whole point of doing a digital detox — to have more intentional time together. 

Join a sports team, do community service together, or go on hikes. Doing these things will take screen time off your mind and also teach you valuable lessons about teamwork and giving back to others. You can even make screen time part of the reward if everyone works hard! 

Make sure there is enough downtime for everyone in the family

Screen time can often be a way for everyone to unwind. So if you all need some downtime, try doing it together as a family. Watch a good movie or play video games TOGETHER. Your kids will LOVE it. If you eliminate screens altogether, try playing a board game or listening to an audiobook. There are SO many ways to have downtime without watching screens. 

toddler on tablet

Screen time digital detox for toddlers

It may be a whole other ball game when it comes to detoxing your toddler. First, it’s important to note that too much screen time for young children is dangerous for their brain development, especially if it’s active screen time

Active screen time is anything that causes them to learn or do something active. Think video games, iPad learning games, etc. Passive scream time, think watching shows or movies, is less damaging to their developing brains.

Because their brains experience high amounts of stimulation during video gameplay, it makes it hard for them to attain that same level of high doing other things. Therin lies the addictive part–they won’t find anything else as satisfying as playing video games, therefore they will struggle to entertain themselves or be content with playing toys or being creative.

Too much screen time often makes parenting HARDER

While moms may think that allowing screens is beneficial to their time alone, it can often work against them, making their child struggle behaviorally in general.

So if you’re needing some downtime, because every mama does at some point, opt-in for them watching a movie instead of playing video games. That is the lesser evil.

If your toddler is struggling with behavioral issues when they don’t get screens, this could be a good sign they need to detox. Everything I mentioned above applies to detoxing your toddler from screens, but make sure you allow time for them to adjust and be extra patient.

I have a very active and strong-willed toddler. It’s exhausting most days, and sometimes, I need a little break. And while sometimes I allow him to watch a show, I aim to encourage independent play while I take a break and do something I need to.

Set your toddler up for success by doing this

It’s important your toddler learns to self-soothe and play without you also playing with them. That doesn’t mean you need to send them away to their room. 

But set them up to succeed by playing with them for 15 minutes or so, and then say something like, “In 5 minutes (they need a warning to help them adjust to the next thing), I’m going to go exercise. I’ll play with you again when I’m done! I can’t wait to see what you’ve built when I come back!”

They might get upset at first, but the more you create these moments for them, the more they will begin to know what to expect. Allow them to be upset, but set boundaries around how they treat you. Say, “It’s okay to be upset, but I can’t let you treat me like that. Let me know when you’re ready to have a fun time playing with your toys again! I’ll be over here doing my exercises.” 

To sum it up!

I hope these tips set you up for success as you explore the benefits of screen time and digital detoxing! I would say that the first few days are rough, but the more you stick with it, the more your family will get used to the new way of life.

You won’t regret doing a digital detox, but you might regret not doing one.

Positive Parenting Tools

  • Digital Wellness

The Pinwheel phone is what we got for our 11yo and it’s absolutely incredible. Check out my full review of it here. Use this link to get an extra 10% off your order!

Bark is a software app to supervise, manage, and protect your child’s device on the go. Use the THIS LINK at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial! Read my review here.

Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below. 

  • Book List for Kids and Parents

Check out my recommended books for parenting, as well as Bibles and devotionals for kids.

  • Journaling for Kids

When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark imagination. 

  • Chores for Kids

Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge

Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is very helpful to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their progress and keep you from constantly reminding them of their daily tasks. 

Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer.

If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”

  • Financial Literacy

My son loves his Greenlight Debit Card. Seriously the easiest way to pay him his allowance and teach him financial responsibility! Through an app, parents have awareness of their child’s spending.

Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids

Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment. 

Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!

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