A Smart Way To Handle Smart Media Overindulgence On Family Vacations

July 22, 2016

So, kids, how did you spend your summer vacation?

Did you take a few keepsake pictures with your smartphone while you were away with your parents, or did you go away determined to pump photos all day onto Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?

“Vacation time isn’t always about taking a picture instead of creating a memory,” says Dr. Laura Saunders, a clinical psychologist working in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living, during an appearance on WFSB’s “Better Connecticut.” “Memories are what we carry with us forever.”

Sometimes, though, it seems as if it’s the smartphone we carry with us forever. The typical teen spends nine hours a day consuming media, according to a report last year by Common Sense. That’s more time than teens devote to sleep, school or their parents.

Kids often feel they have to maintain social media postings to keep up with their friends, says Saunders.

“It creates conflict in the area of peers,” she says. “So for kids, they’re always worried. Are they keeping up with their peers? I tell my kids and others, ‘Do not judge your self-worth by likes and friends and comments.’ That’s not how you judge your self-worth. Look at the substance and monitor what your kids are doing. That’s absolutely critical.”

Saunders says she limits smartphone time in her household the way parents used to restrict overexposure to television programming.

“In our house,” she says, “we have a phone table where all phones go on the table. With the parents as role models, showing their kids, ‘This is what we do – my phone’s going there, too. Parents are powerful role models.’”

Parents could probably use the downtime, too. A Nielsen study released in June revealed that adults spent more time than ever consuming media – 10 hours, 39 minutes each day – in the first quarter of 2016 because of a spike in smartphone and tablet use. (The study included hours spent watching television.)

“We need to take a little time to just put it down, put it away,” says Saunders. “Because otherwise we’re modeling for our children, ‘You’re not important because my device is more important than you are.’”

So the family that vacations together should also give their smart devices a timeout together, at least during designated periods each day.

“Time and attention are the greatest gifts you give your children,” says Saunders. “If you spend all your time with media – phones and other devices – in front of us, we’re not interacting. It’s really the interaction that’s the benefit of time and attention.

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