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Why The Screen Time Debate Is Not (always) About How Much

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There’s been a lot of conversations, publications, reports, surveys and experts telling us the pros and cons of what is right, wrong and indifferent about screen time limits for our children.

One thing is for certain, we are a digitally connected world at all ages. It's not only the kids, it starts at the top - with all of us.

We're living in a time where we are witnessing more people struggling with depression (sadness), anxiety, stress, FOMO (fear of missing out), and other forms of emotional distress, thanks to technology.

Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 30 years ago, often with devastating consequences, according to a University of Michigan study.

Empathy has dropped, while narcissism, “I’m better than you”, has gone up 58 percent. Self- absorption kills empathy.

Research, such as Computer in Human Behavior, shares how adults (parents) will embellish their lives online to appear better than they actually are. We must constantly remind our children, that these cyber-lives and not always what they seem. Role-models are not always walking their talk.

Instead of focusing on our screen time, let's turn this around and find ways to create device-free time.

Cyber-civics teacher and author of Raising Humans In A Digital World, Diana Graber says that empowering kids to set their own limits can help them achieve a happy and healthy balanced life.

Did you know 69 percent of teens, according to a 2018 Screen Education survey, prefer to socialize in person rather than online? Over a quarter of them, 26 percent, actually with someone would impose more screen time limits on them.

Getting unplugged

The positive results of disconnecting and communicating in-real-life with friends and family is that it helps kids develop what many are lacking today, empathy.

Communicating solely behind a screen can be so isolating, so instead of debating the science of it all, let's review ways we can become device-free.

1. Create device-free time at home. Especially on weekends, make plans without gadgets. Even if it's for a few hours, be sure you are disconnected.

2. Meal time is for eating, not texting or emailing. This is especially true for parents. Adults are usually the ones that have that one last text or email from work. Lead by example.

3. Set cell-phone boundaries. If you don't have a smartphone contract yet, create one. Teens want guidelines and limits.

4. Limit your notifications. It's time to turn-off some of the notifications on your gadgets. No one needs to know when every tweet, snap or message is arriving. This also saves your battery life -- while de-stressing you.

5. It can wait. When you turn on the car, turn off the phone. Distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. If you know your teenager is driving, don't text or call them.

It's not about how much time you're online, but how much time you're spending offline. Take time to look around you, look up at the sky, say hello to a neighbor or simply enjoy the friend in front of you -- without checking your phone.

Do you have an idea that has worked in your family to help get disconnected from tech and more connected as a family? Share it in the comments. We’re all in this together.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.