In Australia, 84% of people over 14yrs old own a smart phone and according to some surveys, we spend an average of three hours each day using our phone (many more hours are spent on other internet-connected devices such as computers). As adults, we despair about the effect of screen time and social media on our kids, but you know what they say – change has to start at the top – and when we (the grown ups) are hooked on our phones, we’re not really modelling the kind of behaviour we expect of our kids.
Putting down your phone gives you a better chance of having more connected conversations and is good for your physical and mental health, but it can be easier said than done when so much of our everyday lives is managed within these tiny devices. If you know it’s time to set some limits on your phone use – as an individual or as a family – you might want to try some of these suggestions to help you break your phone habit:
1. Monitor screen time
Many smart phones now have a ‘screen time’ function built in and it can be pretty confronting to see just how much of your life is being spent on your device. If your phone doesn’t have it built in, there are plenty of apps you can download to monitor your phone use. You might be shocked by what you see and sometimes that can be enough to jolt you into making a change. What it will also give you is a breakdown of where you are spending most of your time and that can help you formulate a strategy for cutting back.
2. Audit your apps
We tend to talk about ‘screen time’ as an all-encompassing activity but there are many different kinds of activities you can be doing with the assistance of your smart phone. Fitness apps and trackers are housed in our phones, as are meditation apps, budgeting planners, calendars and mood diaries. A lot of these serve a useful function in supporting our health and wellbeing. The kind of screen-time that can become compulsive and begin to compromise our health and wellbeing are social media and messaging apps, games and even email. Before you ban your phone altogether, you might want to do a review of what’s working and what’s not. Decide specifically which apps need firmer limits.
3. Remove the problem
When you know which particular apps are the biggest time wasters, whether it’s a game you’re addicted to, watching cat videos on YouTube or scrolling Instagram or Facebook, try removing the app from your phone for a while. It’s not to say you can’t still access those things on a computer, but it does mean you’re not going to be tempted to hit that icon on your phone every time you find yourself with a spare few minutes. Removing the temptation by uninstalling the app will help you break the habit faster.
4. Turn off notifications
The thing that most often sucks us into looking at our phones is seeing a notification come up as a banner on your screen (even when you’re not using it!) or hearing the ping of an alert or notification. You are much more likely to be successful in defining your own limits and checking your phone at times that suit you if you deactivate all those notifications, alerts and alarms. Take back the power to choose when you want to look at your device rather than have it continually demanding your attention.
5. Set phone free times (and places)
It’s really important to allocate some time during the day and the week as phone-free – both as an individual and, I would suggest, as a family. It might be no devices during dinner or before 7.30am in the morning. By making this a family rule, you are all more likely to hold each other accountable. You might also make the rule that phones are not to be used in bedrooms so no-one is tempted to pick up their device and start scrolling first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Decide on what’s reasonable and enforce it strictly.
Good luck. And remember H. Jackson Brown Jr’s sage advice from his Life’s Little Instruction Book (advice he proffered long before the invention of smart phones, I might add), “Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for your convenience, not the caller’s”.