The Benefits of a Digital Detox for Kids

If your child struggles with poor screen time habits, a digital detox for kids can be extremely helpful. Learn more about how it can help plus a new children’s book that highlights the fun of the real world when you turn off your device.

henry's tech free trip book

Meet Henry. He is a little boy with a tablet and, like so many of his peers, he finds it exceedingly difficult to put down his device and engage with the real world. He watches videos until his head hurts and thinks constantly about unlocking the next level of his video game, even when he is not playing.

When Henry’s parents take him on a trip to a remote cabin in the woods, he is not supposed to bring his tablet, but he finds this hard to accept. It leads to some tough conversations with his parents and some alarming information about the negative effects of screen addiction in kids.

Henry is the subject of a new children’s book called Henry’s Tech-Free Trip: A Family Adventure. Written by Kylen Ribeiro and Michelle Zofrea and illustrated by Morgan Jennings, the book is for kids aged 6 to 12, but its message is relevant to kids of all ages who might be struggling with putting down their devices.

For parents wondering how to broach the topic of excessive screen time with their kids, Henry’s Tech-Free Trip could be a good way to kickstart the ongoing discussion.

Henry’s parents touch on some of the major effects of excessive screen time in the book, including compromised brain development and blue light exposure, as well as the less obvious effect of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation.

While Henry gets only a cursory introduction to these topics (it is a children’s book, after all), we can afford to dig a little deeper into what these issues are, how they are affecting kids, and what steps we as parents can take to protect our children.

The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time

While screen-based entertainment might seem like a parent’s dream come true (what else keeps kids consistently quiet and distracted for so long?), it comes at a cost to children’s emotional, physical, and neurological wellbeing.

There are the most obvious concerns, such as

  • children spend long periods of time being sedentary
  • they miss out on physical activity and the development of gross and fine motor skills that happens through active play
  • they can suffer from vision problems or digital eye strain
  • they spend more time looking at their devices than into the faces of their family and friends, which stunts the development of facial cue recognition, language skills, and even empathy.

One recent study suggests that screens displace up to 2,000 hours a year that would otherwise be spent in face-to-face interactions with friends and family. That adds up to a significant loss of opportunity for growth and learning. 

Then, there are less obvious side effects that come from too much screen time.

Nightly Screen Time Can Disrupt Sleep

The blue light emitted from screens is known to inhibit the release of melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness and indicates to your body that it is time to rest.

Excessive screen time can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake pattern that is tied to daylight and nightfall.

This means that, not only is a device giving a young child a reason to stay awake longer, i.e., they’re having too much fun playing a game to log off, but the actual light it emits is preventing natural sleepiness from setting in. And when they do finally settle down, they likely will not sleep as well, having looked at the bright blue screen right up until bedtime.

If your child struggles to sleep, the digital detox outlined below can be a great help. You can also try mindfulness techniques to help kids sleep better.

Excessive Screen Use Stunts Emotional and Social Development

The emotional repercussions of too many screens include loneliness and isolation, a lack of resilient friendships, poor communication skills, low self-esteem, body image issues, and, in some kids more than others, a continuous state of hyper-stimulation that is difficult to overcome.

Screen-based games tend to heighten kids’ emotions and, when they are particularly susceptible or accustomed to them, the real world pales in comparison and feels quite boring. An overstimulated kid struggles to know how to function in reality because he or she is so used to the amped-up noises, colors, and activities of virtuality.

Too Much Tech and Screen Use Affects a Child’s Growing Brain

Neurologically, evidence is starting to mount that excessive screen time poses a threat to optimal brain development.

When researchers have used MRIs to measure the thickness of grey matter on the surface of children’s brains, as well as the depths between their brain folds, they have found that the brains of kids with higher levels of digital media use were better at visual processing. However, they were underdeveloped in areas that support more complex skills, like language development, encoding memories, and understanding facial expressions.

EMF Radiation Can Be Harmful to Kids

An even lesser-discussed repercussion is that of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation. Mobile devices, particularly those with wireless transmitting capability, give off a low frequency form of energy that affects cells and bodily functions, and it’s worse with chronic exposure.

DefenderShield, which creates products to shield against EMF and 5G radiation, says that children are at higher risk of harm from EMF radiation, due to a smaller body size, rapidly duplicating cells, and an abundance of conductive watery tissue.

The skull thickness of a five-year-old, for example, is one-quarter the depth of an adult’s (0.5 millimeter versus 2 millimeters), which greatly increases the absorption rate for radiation. There is real concern that children growing up with devices will accumulate far more exposure to EMF radiation over the course of their lifetimes than we ever will, since most of us were adults before tablets and smartphones became mainstream.

How a Digital Detox Can Help Kids

We live in a world where it is unrealistic to assume children can be entirely screen-free. They will engage with these devices regularly and even need them to communicate with parents, friends, and teachers.

It is, however, entirely possible to create strict limits around their use that not only mitigate some of the serious side effects we have just described, but also put these devices in their rightful place — as useful tools, not toys — freeing kids up to enjoy all that the offline world has to offer.

Screen-based entertainment should be more of a rare treat, not a daily expectation. One good way to break out of a bad screen time habit is to implement a digital detox for kids.

This is precisely what Henry undergoes in Henry’s Tech-Free Trip, when his parents eventually confiscate his tablet and invite him to play outdoors. Henry ends up having so much fun that he forgets all about his tablet.

henry's tech free trip book

The book concludes, “His body felt good and his mind felt clear in the fresh mountain air. Maybe taking a break from his tablet wasn’t a punishment after all!”

How to Implement a Digital Detox for Kids

A digital detox does not require a cabin in the mountains; you can do it anywhere, even at home in an urban setting. By removing devices from view and sticking with your screen time limits, they will eventually accept the fact and find other activities to occupy themselves. There may be an emotional, hormone-induced letdown response, but this too shall pass.

Detoxing becomes easier over time, as the dopamine surge caused by the idea of impending screen time lessens. If this sounds overblown, realize that smartphones and their apps are designed to be highly addictive and trigger the same neural pathways in the brain as other addictive substances, like heroin.

They are nearly impossible for a normal human to resist, let alone a child with limited willpower. It’s no wonder we need to take drastic measures to curb usage. Fortunately, the more time a child spends apart from a device, knowing it is inaccessible under any circumstances, the easier it will be for the child to become engrossed by other games and activities and to develop other interests.

Limit Screen Time with Clear Parameters

You could start by implementing mini digital detoxes on weekdays, for example, saving the screen time for weekends only. Or you could whittle it down further, saving the devices for rainy or snowy days only, for when a child is sick, or for special occasions when you truly need a break as a parent.

Choose a Family-Wide Tech-Free Day

You could have family-wide digital detoxes by committing to once-weekly Tech Sabbaths, when you power down all digital devices for 24 hours.

This is an especially effective teaching tool, as it gives parents an opportunity to model the kinds of restrained screen time habits they want to see in their children. And we know that modeling is the best way to teach a child anything in life.

Use EMF-Reducing Tools

There are ways to protect a child from some of the negative effects of screen time. You can find an impressive lineup of EMF radiation-blocking products available from DefenderShield that ranges from special blankets and glasses to headphones and tablet cases.

defendershield tablet protector
blue light blocking glasses

These are important for whatever time your child spends on their devices, but sometimes the best and simplest solution is to simply put the devices away. Your child stands to gain the world in doing so — the real world, which has so much more to teach your child than anything virtual could ever imitate. 

Take a cue from Henry’s parents, confiscate that tablet, and send your kid outside to play. They may grumble, but the more time they spend playing actively, imaginatively, and outdoors, the better off they will be in the long run.

Learn More About Reducing Your Family’s Screen Time

Here are some resources to help you learn more about allowing a healthy balance with technology. These tools are meant to make our lives easier. Remember, in social media you (or your child if they use it) are the product.

How to Reduce Your EMF Exposure

Low Tech Parenting: Tips From a Digital Minimalist Mom

60+ Screen Free Activities

Kids Who Spend Time in Nature Become Mentally Healthier Adults

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