Minnesota nonprofit forms partnership with schools to help kids cut down on screen time

Screen time for kids and young adults is a problem, it seems, for almost every family. As research sheds a light on the negative effects too much of it can have on children, a local nonprofit is trying to help find a healthy screen time balance.

It's crunch time because in order to help grow and reach more kids, they need a hearing at the state capitol by the deadline this coming Friday.

Ninth graders Emily, Leah, and Alice are aware they are part of a generation that has grown up with digital devices at their fingertips. In their words, for every pro, there’s a con. "I don’t realize how long I’m on my phone until I check the clock and oh it’s like 2 a.m."

Recently, Hopkins North Junior High took part in a discussion led by the Minnesota-based nonprofit LiveMore ScreenLess. Conversations aim to use peer-to-peer settings to help make young people more aware of how much time they might spend on social media, online video games, and various screen-driven outlets, and when it becomes unhealthy.

"This is a part of their reality. This generation had a cell phone or iPad handed to them when they were in the grocery cart at age 2. That's when the cell phone became available, so it’s not going away. Trying to navigate and find a balance is the number one way to combat addiction," said English teacher Kim Busch.

Assistant Principal Hinda Abdi has seen the ripple effect of too much phone time, ranging from struggles with mental health to academics. That’s why school nurse Ann Salzer wrote the grant to get LiveMore ScreenLess into their school. "They are coming in upset. They are coming in with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns because of social media and so much screen use."

"Our goal is to make real-life connections and give the why. Let kids interact and do things when you give them the why," adds Abdi.

In 2021, Minnesota lawmakers became the first state in the country to designate state dollars toward digital wellness. "Our organization is not anti-technology," explained LiveMore ScreenLess founder Maree Hampton. "What we are about is balanced, intentional, effective use of technology."

The founders of the nonprofit say the results are a foundation of online resources for families, a network of organizations, teacher training, and peer-to-peer training like we saw in Hopkins.

"Pre-2020 we were struggling with managing devices, and now it’s just exponentially greater," said LiveMore ScreenLess founder KK Myers.

Now, they have a bill at the capitol, aiming to expand programs to as many Minnesota students and school districts as possible. They have bipartisan support. But what they don’t have is a hearing to advance the bill.

"They have done an incredible service to our state, and we just need to grow what you are already doing," said Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Orono).

"I believe in this investment because we are educating educators," said Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton). "We are empowering students to be leaders within their own communities, and we are getting ahead of this issue in a really meaningful holistic, collaborative way with our schools."

As much as the students we talked to don't like giving up their phones, even they agree this is a subject everyone can learn from. "I feel like if we stop the amount of time we are on our phones and social media now and all that, maybe we can make it better for generations coming after us," concluded Leah.