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Make time this holiday for a digital detox

Instead of being a slave to our screens, how can we make the most of the school break?

NEWS 21 June 2023

Can you remember a time when the internet, social media and streaming apps didn’t exist – or they weren’t as readily available as they are now?

Do you have memories of spending most of your school holidays outside and of making your own entertainment – perhaps camping, spending time at the beach or park with family, and catching up to play games and sport with friends…without a laptop, smartphone or iPad in sight?

School holidays are a perfect time to break with routine, to take a break from the devices that are now part of daily life and to try a digital detox. Ideal for everyone in the house — parents and carers included — you’ll probably be surprised at how much more time you have in your day to do something different.

Research by the eSafety Commissioner says teenagers spend an average of 14.4 hours a week online with 9 in 10 teens using the internet to research topics of interest, to watch videos, chat with friends and listen to music. Around eight in 10 teenagers also play games online.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies says younger children, from the ages of four and five-years-old, are spending two to three hours a day in front of screens.

So how can you help your children survive a digital detox this holiday — and what other kinds of activities can you try instead?

“Our advice to parents is always to support their children to build healthy habits and self-regulation with technology, and to support children with structured online versus offline time,” says Trent Ray, Co-founder and Lead Educator at the Cyber Safety Project.

“Sometimes, when screen use limits are introduced, some children and young people find it difficult to know what to do.”

Paul Quon, Haileybury’s Digital Learning Leader for ELC & Junior School, says it can be a challenge to minimise the amount of time spent on screens during the school term because of assessments, research projects, assignments and maths and reading tasks. However, he says school holidays can be a catalyst for establishing new screen-free habits.

“We actively encourage students to find a balance with technology,” he says.

“Screen-free time offers a multitude of benefits from improved emotional wellbeing and better physical health to better sleep. It also offers students the chance for creative exploration and to develop new interests and passions. It can build stronger connections with family and friends and encourage people to engage more with nature and outdoor activities.”
Paul Quon, Digital Learning Leader for ELC & Junior School

6 ways to help your family enjoy a digital detox

  • Lead by example. As a parent or carer, demonstrate good screen habits yourself and this will encourage your child to do the same. So be conscious of how often you watch TV, check your phone and are on your laptop.
  • Establish clear boundaries around using electronic devices and screens from the start of the holiday. “Establish reasonable limits on screen time and set out device-free zones, such as not using devices during mealtimes or before bed,” says Paul. “These limits need to be clearly communicated and your child also needs to understand the consequences if they don’t follow those limits.”
  • Have a conversation about why you want to restrict the amount of time your child spends on screen during the holiday, so they understand you are not just trying to spoil their fun. “Children need to feel like they are part of the decision-making process. When they feel empowered, they are more likely to cooperate,” says Paul.
  • Ask children questions like: how much time do you think is reasonable for you to spend on screens each day this holiday? What do you think are the good and not so good things about using screens and electronic devices? What activities would you like to do that don’t involve a screen?
  • “Help children plan and build structure into their day by allocating a balance of activities,” says Trent. Activities that don’t involve screens might be bringing out old toys or games they may have forgotten about, arts and crafts, cooking or gardening together and inviting other children or family to spend time with you.

“Technology, when used correctly, offers many fantastic opportunities, but time allocated away from screens is just as important,” says Paul.

“The holiday period is a chance to reset, to do things that you don’t always have the chance to do, and to spend more quality time with the people who are closest to you.”

So pack away your laptops and iPads – that’s adults and children – and use the screen-free time to learn something new, to discover a new place or interest, and make some holiday memories.

See some of our ideas for school holiday fun here.