Turning Life On promotes healthy technology practices for families

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Ann Salerno (left) and Christina Hannigan of Turning Life On Hopkinton promote their organization at the Town Common.

According to one of the latest reports from Common Sense Media, kids younger than 8 years old are spending an average of more than two hours each day glued to screens, and roughly 30 percent of that time is on mobile devices, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization that helps kids and parents navigate media.

The organization also reports that teens spend an average of more than seven hours per day on screen media and tweens spend approximately five hours; that doesn’t include any time at school or for homework. The uptick in mobile device use among young children as well as the overall hours of screen time for tweens and teens is raising alarms.

It is because of this data and their own experiences as parents that residents Ann Salerno and Christina Hannigan are bringing Turning Life On to the Hopkinton community. It’s an initiative that informs and brings together parents and other local groups to encourage healthy technology use for children and teens.

The two Hopkinton moms first got together to establish a monthly support group for mothers to openly discuss the challenges of parenthood.

“When we were meeting, the subject of technology came up and the struggles around screen time,” explained Salerno, and thus, Turning Life On Hopkinton came to fruition.

Its premise initially came out of a support platform in Concord called Concord Promise that urges parents to delay purchasing smartphones for their children until the eighth grade. That’s an initiative Turning Life On Hopkinton is encouraging parents to support through a public pledge.

“The pressure on parents to purchase smartphones is so intense. You don’t want your kids to be socially isolated, but if parents all ban together and act together, there’ll be less social pressure on children to feel they have to have them,” said Salerno, a pediatrician and mother of an 8-year-old and 6-year-old, as well as stepmother to two college-aged kids.

There are smartphone alternatives she says that provide children the ability to call and text but do not have Internet access, and therefore no screen time on phones.

Turning Life On (turninglifeon.org/hopkinton-ma) is not only about delaying smartphone purchases but also promoting healthy technology practices for families. Research has indicated too much screen time can increase the change of obesity, sleep problems, anxiety and educational and behavior problems.

“Just to be clear, we’re not anti-technology. Our aim is to help create healthy boundaries,” said Salerno.

Local support for the organization is growing and includes Director of Youth and Family Services Dawn Alcott, Hopkinton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carol Cavanaugh, and executive director and founder of Mental Health Collaborative Abbie Rosenberg.

Turning Life On Hopkinton held its first discussion groups on Dec. 4 and Jan. 11 at the Hopkinton Public Library. The next meeting is Feb. 6 from 7-8 p.m., also at the library.

“The meeting is open to all parents, educators and community members who are interested in discussing how we can work together to help promote healthy technology practices for children and families,” Salerno said. “We welcome parents who are looking for support and guidance about how to navigate the challenges of parenting in a digital world.”

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