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Detox from digital for better mental health

It might not surprise you to know that in the past decade, the time spent on Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks rose. So did the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among youths and adults alike, according to Mariam Wahby, a licensed marriage and family therapist and education specialist in behavioral health services at Memorial Hermann Health System who addressed the topic on the hospital’s health and wellness website.

“They’re fine when they connect us — as long as they don’t disconnect us,” Wahby wrote.

Her post cites a study from the Pew Research Center that says every day, three-fourths of 18- to 24-year-olds hang out on Instagram and three-fourths of 18- to 64-year-olds migrate to Facebook.


The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that on average, girls spend more than an hour per day playing video games and boys spend more than two hours, with teens of both sexes exceeding that amount.

It’s no wonder that lately, I have heard a number of people say they want to unplug in 2021. Or they want to wean their kids off their screens. Or both. Because I am a big believer in the wisdom of the village, I asked around for advice and got a lot of great tips to share.

Set the parameters

Laura Jackson said her family has recently started a 30-day “no video games” program, which includes not watching other people play them on YouTube. She was motivated in part by reading how too much screen time can reduce frontal lobe function in children.

“It will be my responsibility to offer and engage with (them) in other activities,” Jackson said.

Andrea Hindi noticed her daughter was having trouble sleeping.

“Now, an hour before bed, she is completely screenless in order to let her brain slow down and prepare for rest,” Hindi said.

Jennifer Scogin noted that because her son is in virtual school, screen time means something different.

“However, our rule has always been, no screens on weekdays and a four-hour limit each day on weekends,” she said. “That is still the rule, so no Switch, iPad/iPhone games, Netflix or YouTube on weekdays,” she said.

Scoggin also sets a limit for herself.

“Once I hit two hours per day it turns off,” she said. “Other than that, it's difficult because as a graphic designer my work is on a screen. I do try to make a point to not check email or do work projects on the weekend. I also do not have email notifications on my devices. I only check email when I am on my laptop, so it has to be intentional to check it.”

Remove the temptation

Bubba Monroe said that removing Facebook from his phone has been a big help.

“If you want to check (it), this forces you to use a computer and you don’t check as much,” he said. “Instagram isn’t on the laptop, so it’s all or none. You can delete the app from your phone and reinstall later and you don’t lose anything.”


Marie Kellner also removed Facebook from her phone.

“It’s amazing how much that makes it easier to stay away,” she said.

Julia Gratzer said she feels like arguments over screen time with her kids have been harmful to their relationship.

“I feel defeated somewhat because they have to be on screens all day for school, and it's a way to connect with a group of friends while they are restricted from seeing each other in person,” she said.

However, recently the family bought a small safe, like you might see in a hotel room.

“I put all the electronics in there at night,” she said. “It's helpful because it removes all temptation and stops my 13-year-old from sneaking.”

Make time online purposeful

Bianca Broman makes the point that all digital content is not detrimental. She is trying to use online resources to further her hobbies.

“When your time spent in the digital world is more purposeful and meaningful, and less mindless, it’s easier to step away and get some space. Trust me - take an hour-long graphic design YouTube class on how to use Adobe Spark and you’ll want to step away when it’s done and get some fresh air. Or when your fingers start hurting from practicing your guitar with Tony from Tony’s Acoustic Session Online, you’ll be happy to go outside and catch a breeze.”

Substitute other activities

Anneke Self says she’s started doing puzzles again and reading physical books as well as playing cards and taking walks.

“I’m a work in progress,” she said.

Aleksa Pilc says that once all the devices are in a closet, she and her kids plan nights of family games, reading, playing outside and whatever else they want to do.

“They complain at first, (but) as the day goes on, they forget about their devices,” she said. “We always have more fun together on those days. I cherish them.”

As someone who makes his living as a “computer person,” Edward Ferguson finds it hard to detox.

He said his off switch is triggered by wife, LaTrice, when the family travels to places where there is no Internet.

“(It) takes about a week to get used to it,” he said.