Why ‘screen balance’ is better than a full detox

Kinderling News & Features

Have you ever wondered how families organised themselves in the years before the internet? Everything now is more streamlined, organised, categorised, right? 

We learn each day how positively and negatively technology can impact our family life, relationships, work ... so how can we find balance in our tech-saturated lives?

Achieve balance, not detox

The problem with a technology detox is that we can get carried away with complete elimination - just like when you 'detox diet' - only drinking lemon and pepper water isn’t healthy or sustainable. It only takes a few weeks for our old habits to creep back in. Because detoxing isn’t sustainable in the long run, looking for balance in our lives is the next best thing.

How do we achieve this balance? Dr Kristy Goodwin has spent her life researching this, and knows first-hand just how hard it is. And how big a difference it makes in our lives when we commit to developing healthy tech habits.

"If we can develop those healthy habits, they're more likely to be repeated rather than a one-off sort of detox,” Kristy says. “A bit like when we do a food detox, you can’t sustain that week in, week out, but every now and then if you need a quick recalibration, if you’ve been too far swimming in the digital pool and need to reign things in, sometimes a digital detox can be a good recalibration point."  

Listen to Kristy on Kinderling Conversation:

By completely removing technology for an hour, an evening, a day, possibly even a week, it helps us to realise just how many micro-moments we miss because we’re checking Instagram while having dinner.

Kristy's advice is to Keep. It. Simple. "The minute we complicate things, we won’t execute on it," she suggests. Her first piece of advice is to plan in advance: "Anything we commit in our diary ... be it a child's birthday party or calendar event, it’s more likely to happen."

Why does it get done? The simple act of planning it - by writing it down and scheduling it - puts us on the road to actually following through.

Pre-pick screen alternatives

Pick an afternoon that suits your family to put down the gadgets. In Kristy's family they have Sunday Funday. The limit really is your imagination - something we can forget as we 'grow up'. Write up a list of family bucket list fun activities for everyone, from your youngest to your partner. It’s also a great way to get your partner involved by asking them the sorts of activities or games they played as a child. It may seem an age ago, but you’re almost guaranteed to be surprised!

Take a simple sheet of butcher’s paper and a twitter-free brainstorming session and you’ve already filled an afternoon. By getting together and thinking of things to do, you’re opening up and carving out time for your family that can so easily be lost in the noise of everyday life.

What about those moments during the week when we turn to the digital babysitter because it’s easy? Like when the kids are at your heels because their hungry, but dinner isn’t ready yet. For Sunday Funday, Kristy has a list of activities written down (or in picture form for the littlies that can’t read yet) to make up their very own Bored Board.

When the dreaded "I'm boooored" comes careening its way down the hallway, you can help them to feel like they have the power to fix that 'boredom' with games and activities that they've already chosen.

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Quantity does not equal quality

It comes back to setting realistic expectations. Kristy jokes, "Pick an activity that you'll be committed to. So, if bush walking isn't your cup of tea don’t commit to five weeks of bush walking, because you'll do one week and that will be it.

"We often think it needs to be the whole day. It's quality not quantity. Don't make it tricky and keep it really simple and you're more likely to succeed over time with it. We often think we’ve lost the art of 'play', and we think this has to be more complicated than it needs to be. What are those simple fun pleasures that you had as a child? Think about introducing some of those."

Don’t use screens for sleep

Kristy reminds us that the research has shown that “devices before bed suppress melatonin production [in our brains] and it makes it harder to fall asleep. Screens have an arousal effect on the brain which [leads to] hyperstimulation.”

The exact opposite of what we want as tired parents! Avoid whipping out the bright tablet before bed time.

Be realistic to be successful

If a detox will help you realise just how tethered to your device you’ve become, be gentle but realistic with your attempts at change. Find those small pockets of time where you’d normally check your phone, to dedicate a moment or two of attention to your children.

Kristy adds "Your kids really appreciate it. I know that our phones can rob us of the two most important commodities; our time and our attention. We never get either of those things back. If we do carve out those small pockets, those moments, then we can ditch the guilt, and indulge in our screen pleasure later on, guilt free."