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A Family Finds A Way To Wean Themselves From Electronic Devices


Studies find teenagers with too much screen time have more anxiety and less self-esteem, yet the average kid now gets a smartphone around age 10. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports how one family responded.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The idea of setting aside one day a week for rest or renewal is not exactly a new idea. But it's hard to do when we're tethered to our smartphones. So Odesa Shlain Goldberg, who is in ninth grade, says her family has come up with a solution. They call it Tech Shabbat.

ODESSA SHLAIN GOLDBERG: Around 5:30 on Friday nights, we all shut down our screens, and we do not go back on them until 5 o'clock on Saturday night.

AUBREY: Now, Odessa's parents are very tech savvy. Her dad, Ken Goldberg, is a professor of robotics and her mom, Tiffany Shlain, is a filmmaker. Shlain says they're not religious, but they love the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, with its focus on rest or restoration. She says Saturdays now feel very different.

TIFFANY SHLAIN: During the week, you're so influenced by so many other factors, notifications and buzzes and emails, and the way I describe it is like an emotional pinball machine where you're just responding to all these external forces.

AUBREY: But when you turn it all off, time slows down.

SHLAIN: It's something that we look forward to every week. You're making your own attention and time sacred again.

AUBREY: Odessa says she almost feels a sense of relief when Friday rolls around. Some of the pressure and anxiety that comes with being a teen seems to fall away.

ODESSA: It's amazing because I think the complete, like, disconnect makes Saturdays a much more relaxed day for me. There's no FOMO or seeing what my friends are doing. It's a family day.

AUBREY: And this perspective, Odessa finds, can carry over to the rest of the week. For instance, she thinks a little differently about social media. She realizes it often makes other people's lives appear more glamorous.

ODESSA: What you're doing is, like, sitting at home scrolling, so obviously, like, you're not having that glamorous experience. It feels a little discouraging.

AUBREY: She's not alone. What Odessa describes is borne out by research. In a recent study, researchers surveyed eighth, 10th and 12th graders around the country. They asked them outside of your school work, how much time do you spend online, on your phones, texting, gaming, searching the Internet or using social media? The teens also answered questions about their self-esteem, sense of well-being and happiness. Here's study author Jean Twenge of San Diego State University.

JEAN TWENGE: We found that teens who spend five or more hours a day online are twice as likely to say that they're unhappy.

AUBREY: That's compared to teens who spend less time plugged in and more time engaged in face-to-face activities, playing or exercising or reading. Interestingly, the study finds that digital abstinence is not good either. Teens who have no access to screens or social media may feel shut out. So the research suggests there seems to be a sweet spot.

TWENGE: Teens who spend a little bit of time on digital media, so up to about an hour or even two hours a day, those are actually the happiest teens.

AUBREY: So it's not all or nothing. That's what Tiffany Shlain and her family love about their tradition.

SHLAIN: I think everyone needs this break.

AUBREY: But she says, come the end of their weekly power down, they reappreciate (ph) technology all over again. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "TETRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.