Digital detox: Giving up electronic screens

Researchers say the average adult logs eight hours of screen time looking at an electronic device while teenagers are said to spend nearly nine hours every day in front of a screen.

It's no wonder then that many people want to cut into the time spent by them and their children in front of an electronic screen.

The Souza family, which lives in San Leandro, is going through what some might call a "digital detox." The children, Brody, 9, and Julianna, 6, are spending a lot of time together these days playing on the trampoline in the backyard.

But that wasn't always the case. Brody used to spend hours online -- mostly gaming.

His mother, Casey Souza, says she felt like a jail warden, enforcing strict limits on her children's screen time. "It was a constant battle," she said, adding that it caused "a constant rift between Brody and me."

It was a real wake-up call when she and her husband, Troy, discovered Brody had been sneaking the family's iPad in the middle of the night to play Minecraft and Clash of Clans.

"We tried different techniques, like timers, like apps that are timers," said Souza. "He figured how to un-install them (and) became quite the techie!" 

Brody Souza says it was hard to tear himself away from the game when his parents said his screen time was up.

"It was kinda addicting," Brody said. "Because you'd collect your stuff (and) then in an hour it would all be ready again."

So Brody's parents said no more and locked up every device and the family has been "screen-free" since mid-August.

Souza said the move required some adjustment but the family is adapting.

"We all realized this is for real, this is how it's going to be," she said. "And I started seeing Brody take out toys I hadn't seen in a year."

Digital use experts, however, advise against going "cold turkey."

Caroline Knorr, with Common Sense Media said: "I think extremes can always be a problem. Like when someone says I'm going on a diet and I'm only gonna eat carrots," she said. "You know that's going to backfire."

Knorr says instead of rejecting screen time, which may not be practical or realistic, the best thing parents can do for their children is to model judicious -- or mindful -- use of technology.

And while "Internet addiction" is not currently classified as a mental disorder, Knorr says she understands why some consider "likes," "retweets," text messages and emails addicting.

"There are some studies that show that it's like a little dopamine hit just like gambling that provides that 'oh, that feels good!''" sensation, Knorr said.  

Her suggestions for adults who want to set limits include: setting screen-free times; imposing zones; and limiting checks of phones to a set schedule, like once an hour.

As for the Souza's digital detox, Brody admits that he misses his screen time. His mother said the family is planning to eventually have only one family computer in a common area so no one can "disappear" into a bedroom with a tablet for hours.

"I also want to see him get those pleasures, those feel-good neurotransmitters from hitting a home run or getting an "A" on a paper," Souza said, adding that she hopes to teach her children that real life always beats an experience on a screen.

By KTVU anchor Gasia Mikaelian.