No Gift Like the Present: 3 Tips for Reducing Screentime this Holiday

Posted On Dec 18, 2018 By Amanda Wormann

Family enjoying themselves during the holidays

A couple of months ago – while I was winding down on the couch watching the TV, finishing up some work on my computer, and intermittently scrolling my Instagram feed on my phone – I noticed my dog get up from the couch and go upstairs. Being the needy dog mom I am, I yelled up to him, "c'mon Mikey, stay down here and cuddle with me on the couch." It started to happen night after night, and soon enough, like anything, it became routine.

A few nights into this, a light bulb went off. Two things were happening: 1. The dog knew I was settled in for the night, and figured it was safe to let his guard down and lay upstairs. But really, I knew it was: 2. I wasn't fully present, and he could feel it. After my realization, I stopped "winding down" alongside my screens, and sure enough, he stuck around on the couch, snuggling his cute little self beside me.

dog sleeping on couch next to a Christmas tree

I know, I know, "he's just a dog." But this showed me something. I see it with parents and kids. And couples at restaurants. And teenagers with their family. Heck, I even see it with my 67-year-old father who insists on uploading the photo of his dinner right at that moment ("Dad, no one will know when you're eating vs. when you're posting," I tell him.) We're just...not all there. And while teenagers take most of the heat, I think we're all part of the problem, far more than we'd like to admit.

The holidays only come around once a year, and there truly is magic in the air. If we don't lift our heads from our screens, we might miss it. And, like my dog, the magic might miss us, too.

Here are a couple of small ways to decrease screen time and stay present this holiday.

Turn your iPhone display to grayscale.

Did you know that apps and notifications are designed to grab our attention? Like a slot machine paying out a little taste of success (show me the money!), app notifications are meant to draw us back in for more, so we ultimately "spend" more. For example, think of the little red notification on alongside your Instagram app logo – it sends a signal to our brain, "oh look, someone liked my photo," and you open the app to see who double-tapped that photo you posted earlier. Then, before you know it, you're an hour deep in scrolling, forgetting why you're there.

Something as simple as changing your display to grayscale can help minimize the sensory overload of colorfully designed apps and the subsequent red notifications summoning our attention. To do this, tap your home button three times and poof – black and white!

You can set this shortcut up in your settings. Learn how.

Use Apple's new Screen Time feature.

Even Apple knows we need help staying present. With the release of iOS 12, Apple rolled out new features designed to help us monitor and reduce screen time. To access Screen Time, first, make sure you have the latest iOS on your phone, then head to Settings > Screentime. Once turned on, here you'll find daily and weekly charts of how you are using your phone. Careful though, you might be frightened by the results. The app will show you how much time you spend on each app, and even how many times you pick up your phone in a day. Scary, I know.

Learn more about Screen Time.

Set Limits for App Use

I'm not calling anyone out, because I'm guilty too, but most of the time spent on our phones is spent mindlessly scrolling apps. No real purpose, no real destination. Along with Apple's new Screen Time feature, comes a suite of tools to curb our usage. The App Limits feature allows you to set a time limit on different categories of usage – for example, want only to use social media for one hour a day? Once you set this limit, your phone will show you once you hit your limit, giving a gentle reminder to tune back into reality.

Another great feature is Downtime, which allows you to mute notifications during a set window of time, like bedtime and the hours leading up to it.

Learn more about App Limits and Downtime.

Tip: Parents, these tools are great to use on the kid's phones, too. You can go in on this together, creating a competition to see who can reduce their screentime the most this holiday. Winner gets an extra gift – along with the best gift of all, the present.