From the Mailbag: Sixth-grade class project

Side note: I have recently received a number of emails from students who want me to answer questions for their class projects. I think it is so wonderful that students feel empowered to contact sources directly and wish I could answer every note. Before doing so, however, I recommend students check out my press page, where I likely have already answered a good number of the questions in articles I have written for various outlets.


Dear Ms. Homayoun,

My name is [name redacted] and I am a sixth grader at [school redacted] in Seattle, Washington. In our class we have been given the opportunity to learn about whatever we would like for a month. I chose to research about phone addiction and I happened to find your website and I found it really helpful. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about phones and phone usage.

My questions are:

What are some ways to remove yourself from a screen?
What age group uses their devices the most?
What are the side effects of overusing your device?

If you would like to email me back (which would be great!) my email is: [email redacted] If you cannot I completely understand. Thank you for taking the time to read this message!

[Sixth-grade student] from Seattle, WA

My reply:


Thank you so much for your kind, thoughtful, and well-written email. I am working on a new book, so I don’t always have time to reply to every email, but I wanted to make sure you knew I appreciated your reaching out and asking such wonderful questions.

In terms of preventing yourself from using or overusing screens, I personally find that coming up with structured “tricks” tends to work best. For instance, I put my email on pause in the mornings and don’t check email before 10 am. That might not be possible for everyone. For kids, I recommend putting screens in another room after a certain hour and, also, remembering what you like doing off-screen (drawing? biking? baking? writing? reading? playing outside?) and making concentrated time for that every day. For me, I walk my dogs in my neighborhood with my phone off so I can enjoy being outside.

Different age groups tend use devices differently. Pew Research always offers great data and insight, and I suggest taking a look at their website. I would say that teens and senior Americans who use devices tend to use their devices more for socializing (though many students have to use devices to complete their school work as well!). I find it is important to make distinctions in how people are using screens. Screen use isn’t all good or bad. How, when, and why we use things is important.

And, finally, the side effects of using your device include feeling unbalanced in some way: feeling irritable, exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated can all be signs of overuse. If you feel like you are experiencing negative side effects of device usage, you can try some of the suggestions I mentioned earlier. What works for one person might not work for another, so it is important for each person to figure out what works best for them. For kids, it is helpful to have parents help not only with awareness but also with setting aside the structured time and space needed for a daily or weekly “digital detox.”

Thank you so much for your amazing questions, and I hope your project goes well!

Warm regards,


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