From the Yondr bag to get-togethers, 7 tips to break your family out of the technology rut (and keep your sanity)

PHOTO: Michele said she and her husband, Todd, had tried often over the years ago to institute some screen-time rules in her home but her children had resisted.PlayABC News
WATCH Family takes us into their home to show how much time is spent on screens: Part 1

How do we find a healthy balance in a high-tech life?

It's a question shared by many, including those tasked with raising today’s youth, from new parents to high school principals.

On average, American adults spend the equivalent of 49 days each year on their mobile phones and tablets. And the phenomenon of being tethered to mobile devices has only occurred in less than a decade.

A quick search on YouTube reveals scenes of desperate parents trying all kinds of things to take back control in their homes. Even parents of babies say they wonder why infants have such a quick and fierce attachment to the screen.

Experts -- some who are also parents -- recently shared some suggestions with ABC News to help people rein in children and teenagers' use of technology, in their homes and in their day-to-day lives.

Watch the full two-hour special report "ScreenTime: Diane Sawyer Reporting" THIS FRIDAY, May 3, at 8 p.m. on ABC.

"We have to help youth understand. Sitting with a person, face-to-face, laughing, kidding with one another, you know, some contact, that is what's important. That is going to make you feel less lonely, more happy, more engaged, more connected," said Dr. Anne Marie Albano, head of the Anxiety and Related Disorder Clinic at Columbia University.

Babies and screen time

When it comes to babies, Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of Temple University’s Infant Language Lab and also a mother, said screens from a mobile device were like "digital candy."

PHOTO: Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and researcher Tracy Dennis-Tiwary encouraged parents to be careful exposing babies and young children to mobile devices that can be like digital candy. ABC News
Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and researcher Tracy Dennis-Tiwary encouraged parents to be careful exposing babies and young children to mobile devices that can be like "digital candy."

"It takes a little bit of the human out of our interactions," she said. "The way our species is designed to learn is through this back-and-forth and back-and-forth interaction. And, we do a whole lot in our world today to try to cut that. ... Whether it's sitting our kids in front of devices for long periods of times or whether it's interrupting those conversations by pulling out our own devices."

She and researcher Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a professor of psychology at New York’s Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, encouraged parents to be careful.

Tip 1. Children younger than 18 months should avoid screens entirely with the occasional exception of a few minutes of Facetime with family, the two women advised.

"This is not about parent guilting," said Dennis-Tiwary, a mother of two. "Sometimes we have to get things done. … (But) that face-to-face time we have with our children is not just, it’s not just the icing on the cake. It is the cake. … It is the place that children learn the most about the world and about themselves."

Tip 2. For children older than the age of 2, limit screen use to one hour with parental supervision, they said.

"We need always ask, 'What makes a human a human? In what ways are we different than, better than, the computer can be?' And the one way in which I believe we are better than the computer is in human-to-human interaction. That’s our calling card," Hirsh-Pasek said.

This is not about parent guilting.

Mobile devices and video games at home

Nearly 43 percent of U.S. families don't limit screen time, according to Common Sense Media.

In the Midwest, Michele, an executive for a large global manufacturer who asked that her last name not be used, told ABC News that she and her husband, Todd, a financial adviser who works from home, had tried often over the years ago to institute some screen-time rules in her home but her children had resisted.

"I kind of feel like I don’t know my kids," Michele told ABC News. "Who are they as people? What’s important to them? … It’s hard to connect when we’re all holding our devices."

The children who are still at home -- Kristen, 17; Carson, 15; and Johnny, 12 -- had argued that they have to do what their friends are doing, from gaming to conversations, so Michele eventually had given up. Their couple, married for 26 years, also have a fourth child in college.

"I wouldn’t have friends if it wasn't for SnapChat and Instagram," Kristen said.

PHOTO: Michele said she and her husband, Todd, had tried often over the years ago to institute some screen-time rules in her home but her children had resisted. ABC News
Michele said she and her husband, Todd, had tried often over the years ago to institute some screen-time rules in her home but her children had resisted.

When ABC News spoke to husband-and-wife therapists Don and Carrie Cole of the renowned Gottman Institute in Seattle, which helps couples and families strengthen relationships, they offered these additional tips.

Tip 3. Have an open-ended discussion about screen time in the house and what family members feel they need. Allow everyone to weigh in to the conversation.

"Instead of making a decision about, 'Here’s what we’re going to do,' maybe get a vote," the Coles said.

Tip 4. Agree on some simple things. Michelle’s family met at a favorite restaurant and they talked for about an hour. After the meeting, the family agreed on one phone-free hour after dinner so that everyone could do something together. They also agreed to spend one day a month together to make some new memories.

Tip 5. Use social media to connect with each other rather than making it the enemy.

That face-to-face time we have with our children is not just, it’s not just the icing on the cake. It is the cake.

Tip 6. If there’s conflict or the screen-time plan doesn’t seem to be working, take a deep breath, be kind to each other and begin again – without criticism, defensiveness or contempt.

Tip 7. If you and your child agree on a time limit on screen time and the child then goes into a meltdown and/or rage when that time limit has been reached, "discuss the consequences for that behavior ahead of time. … Often we find that we can't follow through with the grounding and give an early reprieve anyway. Any grounding should include conversations about the situation afterwards as well," Don Cole said.

PHOTO: Therapists Don and Carrie Cole of the renowned Gottman Institute offered tips on managing screen time with teenagers in the home. ABC News
Therapists Don and Carrie Cole of the renowned Gottman Institute offered tips on managing screen time with teenagers in the home.

Mobile devices in schools and at work

In the U.S., administrators like Woodrow Wilson High principal Kim Martin have joined 2,000 other schools around the country and started using a kind of lockbox for cellphones called the Yondr bag. The school has used the locking bags since last September. With the Yondr bag, the pin locks the phone inside during class. The lock is then opened by a special magnet on the way out the classroom door.

But, while teachers told ABC News that they were happy to be teaching again -- and not serving as phone police -- they also addressed another issue: Parents who repeatedly text their children while they’re in class.

Wilson’s Martin said at first, the parents pushed back against the Yondr bag.

"(Some said): 'No, I want my child to have their phone for safety purposes. What if this happens or what if this happens and they need to contact me?'" she said.

PHOTO: Michele and Todds children, Kristen, 17; Carson, 15; and Johnny, 12, had argued that they have to do what their friends are doing, from gaming to conversations. ABC News
Michele and Todd's children, Kristen, 17; Carson, 15; and Johnny, 12, had argued that they have to do what their friends are doing, from gaming to conversations.

Martin said she'd briefed the parents on what security experts have said after studying incidents around the U.S. Using cellphones in an emergency can actually be hazardous, they say.

About 30 percent of U.S. high schools like Seymour in Connecticut have issued a complete ban on the use of phones in school. The ban was launched a year and a half ago and principal Jim Freund told ABC News that the ban had increased student involvement in class discussions and increased grades. It has also reduced bullying during school hours.

"I've come to believe that the use of social media and cellphones is actually hindering the social development of our youth today," he said.

Experts Don and Carrie Cole said the goal was to embrace technology with limits.

"To accept the good and modify the isolation that it causes, I think, is the real goal," Don Cole said.