Let’s start with the bad news. Teens spend an average of 30 hours per week in front of screens. Television, computers, smart phones, and video games are changing teenagers’ bodies, their visions, and their minds. All this time being sedentary with a screen glowing changes teens’ healthy movement patterns and messes with their posture. When kids are hunched over, typing away on their phones, their natural alignment becomes skewed. Every inch your head moves forward is an extra 10 pounds your neck has to hold up! Obviously, this extra weight being hauled around by the neck leads to headaches, as well as neck, back and jaw problems. The glowing screens and tiny fonts also take a toll on teenagers’ vision and effects their sleeping habits.
Now for the good news. Short of just taking away their electronic devices, there are ways to mitigate the effects of extreme screen use. One way to help is to encourage your child to take eye-breaks, focusing on something other than a screen. An easy rule-of-thumb is “20-20-20”: Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Of course, if they can take longer and more frequent eye-breaks, all the better. While on their break, show your child how to consciously breathe so the eye-break can be a little meditation, too. I like to teach the Circle Breath. As your teen stares into the distance, they inhale up the front of their body to the count of five. Then, while counting six through 10, they exhale down their back, creating a circle, or bubble, around them. They can add a color this breath (maybe a light blue to calm down, or orange to energize), filling their bubble with whatever they need in the moment. If they do this breath twice, it fits right into the 20-20-20 rule.
To help relieve neck and shoulder strain, show your child a few simple Yoga stretches. These don’t have to be full-blown poses requiring floor space and a mat. Start with neck circles. Have your teen sit on the edge of the ir chair , feet flat on the floor, reaching the heart and crown toward the ceiling. They then draw imaginary circles on the ceiling with the top of their heads, both directions. They then draw more circles, this time using their noses to draw on the wall. Reach arms overhead, interlace fingers and turn the palms up. Inhale, pushing the middle fingers toward the sky. On the exhale, lean the upper body to the left, squeezing the left ribs and stretching the right, keeping the hips, chest, shoulders, and head facing forward. Inhale to the center and exhale to the opposite side. This can be repeated as often as necessary. Shoulder rolls and shrugs also help. Gentle seated twists relieve back congestion. And yawning is great for jaw release.
And while it may sound counter-intuitive, there are a few apps that can help introduce meditation and awareness practices, as well as encourage more physical activity. I mean, if teens are already glued to their device, they may as well use it for good, rather than evil!
- Stop, Breathe & Think: Written for kids (but fantastic for teens and adults), this app asks users to check-in with their feelings and leads them through a guided meditation appropriate for what they need to feel better.
- Smiling Mind: Another meditation trainer, complete with guided meditations divided into age-appropriate sections.
- Office Yoga MD Lite: Provides visual references for poses suitable for practicing in a chair at home, school, or work.
- WorkRave : another handy app that reminds you to take breaks at regular intervals to prevent computer related stress (including eyestrain)
- Take a Chill: good for tweens and teens, this app sends reminders to practice mindfulness and provides mini-activities, too.