03 Margaret Thanksgiving has come and gone in a wake of leftovers and cellphone photos of family and friends gathered for the occasion. Moving forward into the holiday season proper ups the stress level for most of us. It has been estimated that the holidays are more stressful for American women than almost everything else except for the loss of a spouse or a child.

How can we reduce our stress during the holidays and beyond?

An increasing body of evidence says we — women, men and children — would benefit enormously from more discipline of our screen time, be it on a cell phone, a tablet, full-blown computer, television or some specialized gizmo I have never heard of much less used.

A quick search yields lists of articles about ill-effects of screen time on children, including research released just last month linking screen time to lower brain development in preschoolers. Many parents are now trying to limit screen time, but that is apparently far more difficult than those of us who parented before cell phones and such can imagine. Take as evidence children everywhere glued to screens in restaurants and other public places. Screen time comes with physical changes for children as well — less movement and less oxygen intake, less social interaction with other children and adults, exposure to adult images and concepts not available to children of prior generations.

It is not just children spending too much time looking at various appliances. We adults are voracious screen-time consumers, walking around talking on or looking at our phones, working on tablets and laptops as if our very lives depend on them. The word “addiction” is bandied about and with good reason. I had an up-close-and-personal encounter with just how important my cell phone has become to me when I left it in a church pew after a wedding last spring. Blessedly, a fellow wedding guest, whom I did not know, found my phone and tracked me down, but I was sick with worry for almost 24 hours—my personal information, my contact lists, my purchases, my photos! So relieved was I that when he declined a reward, I sent a check to the church in his honor.

Evidence of the problem abounds, and solutions are offered, all of which require adult discipline.

Experts agree that screen time for children should have clear and enforceable limits for both time and content. Every family is different, of course, and there is a wealth of advice available for both what to do and how to do it. The issue is parental fortitude in the face of children’s demands. It might help to see the issue as protecting one’s children, not depriving them.

As for adults, we are going to have to do it ourselves, and here is why we should. A Nielsen report in 2014 found American adults with about 11 hours of some sort of screen time per day. Among that astounding amount of screen time’s ill effects are weight gain, vision problems, neck and back pain, poor sleep, impaired cognitive function, a lack of privacy and early death, all of which should give us great pause. Most of today’s jobs require some degree of screen time, making it all the more important to build in time for movement, for actual face-to-face interaction with family, friends and colleagues and regular quiet time when all screens are turned off. Long before screen time became an issue, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz gave himself an hour a week alone to contemplate, write, plan and be in his own company, something we should all consider for our mental health. He is wise, indeed.

It is intimidating to many, including your columnist, to think about being without gizmos, but every generation before us lived without them. They came upon us and we embraced them so quickly that we have had little time to consider their impact. Now is that time, though, and we should all be taking baby steps to control our devices instead of their controlling us.
 

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