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What Arianna Huffington wants you to know about healthy tech use for kids

As the co-founder of the Huffington Post, the internet and Arianna Huffington’s name will forever be linked. But as a mother with a hyperawareness of all the ways technology use affects daily life, she is also an advocate for screen moderation.

“We’re at an inflection point right now in our relationship with technology. Up until just recently the idea of more technology was taken for granted to be a good thing,” Huffington tells Motherly. “That changed for many people in the past year.”

Pointing to the role technology played in the 2016 election as well as the wider recognition about how screen-dependency has “pushed the pace of our lives faster and faster,” Huffington believes we are now at a tipping point that is causing many people to reevaluate the roles of digital and social media in our lives.

This is especially relevant to parents, who are considering not only how they use technology, but also how and when to introduce it to children. “I can’t imagine there’s a parent alive who isn’t dealing with this issue in their own family,” says Huffington.

As this new relationship between society and technology begins, Huffington is again staged to play a significant role. In 2016, she announced she was stepping down from the Huffington Post to launch Thrive Global, a wellness startup that aims to “end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance, and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology.”

That encompasses the THRIVE app, which helps users monitor their children’s smartphone use and set their own screen-time limits. To Huffington, the two go hand-in-hand: In order to help our kids have healthy relationships with technology, we also need to model it.

“It’s hard to convince children and especially teens to look up from their screens if their parents are buried in them,” Huffington says, suggesting that device-free outings and meal times are good places to start scaling back on the average 2,600 times Americans touch their smartphones each day.

“When there’s a positive alternative, it’s a lot easier to put the phone down,” says Huffington. If that seems easier said than done, it may help to make screen-time accountability a family affair by encouraging children to tell the adults when to put away phones, too. “There’s nothing wrong—in fact, it’s very healthy—to be open and honest with your teens that setting boundaries is a struggle for you, too,” says Huffington.

With little kids, setting them up for healthy relationships with smartphones and social media down the road may look like taking the time to read paper books together as a family or telling them when you’re putting your phone away.

Once they are old enough to have smartphones or social media accounts of their own, the game changes. Just as parents set ground rules before teenagers begin driving, Huffington advises they establish rules like “no phones in the bedroom.”

She says fostering this type of “phone hygiene” is especially important as a growing body of research indicates there are mental health consequences when teens replace face-to-face interactions with exclusively digital dialogues.

This isn’t about painting all technology as bad—but instead about fostering the mindfulness that enables us to use digital tools in the right times and places. As Huffington says, “Phones, like all technology, should augment our humanity, not consume it.”

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