Has Your Phone Become Your Third Child? Ways to Get Screen Time Anxiety Under Control

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smartphone screen timeYou aren’t going to like this post. However, you will, hopefully, find yourself nodding and perhaps, even making some changes because of it. Here it friends: That love-hate relationship you have with your smartphone may need some serious attention — not tomorrow or next week — but now.

I’m lecturing myself first by the way. Thanks to the June iOS update that tracks and breaks down phone usage, I’m ready — eager in fact — to make some concrete changes to my digital habits. Why? Because the relationship with my phone – which by the way has become more like a third child — is costing me in time (75 days a year to be exact), stress, and personal goals.

I say this with much conviction because the numbers don’t lie. It’s official: I’m spending more time on my phone than I am with my kids. Likewise, the attention I give and the stress caused by my phone is equivalent to parenting another human. Sad, but true. Here’s the breakdown.

Screen time stats for the past seven days:

  • 5 hours per day on my device
  • 19 hours on social networks
  • 2 hours on productivity
  • 1 hour on creativity
  • 18 phone pickups a day; 2 pickups per hour

Do the math:

  • 35 hours a week on my device
  • 1,820 hours a year on my device
  • 75 days a year on my device

Those numbers are both accurate and disturbing. I’m not proud. Something’s gotta give and, as Michael Jackson once said, change needs to start with the man (woman) in the mirror.

A 2015 study by Pew Research Center found that 24% of Americans can’t stop checking their feeds constantly. No surprise, a handful of other studies confirm excessive phone use is linked to anxiety, depression, and a social phenomenon called FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out.

Efficiency vs. Anxiety

There’s no argument around the benefits of technology. As parents, we can keep track of our kids’ whereabouts, filter their content, live in smart houses that are efficient and secure, and advance our skills and knowledge at lightning speeds.

That’s a lot of conveniences wrapped in even more pings, alerts, and notifications that can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress.  In our hyper-connected culture, it’s not surprising to see this behavior in yourself or the people in your social circles.

  • Nervousness or anxiety when you are not able to check your notifications.
  • An overwhelming need to share things — photos, personal thoughts, stresses — with others on social media.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you are not able to access social media.
  • Interrupting conversations to check social media accounts.
  • Lying (downplaying) to others about how much time you spend on social media sites.

We often promote balance in technology use, but this post will go one step further. This post will get uncomfortably specific in suggesting things to do to put a dent in your screentime. (Again, these suggested changes are aimed at this mom first.)

Get Intentional

  • Look at your stats. A lot of people don’t go to the doctor or dentist because they claim “not knowing” about an ailment is less stressful than smartphone screen timeknowing. Don’t take that approach to your screen time. Make today the day you take a hard look at reality. Both iOS and Android now have screen time tracking.
  • Get reinforcements.  There are a lot of apps out there like Your Hour, AppBlock, Stay Focused, Flipd, and App Off Timer designed to help curb your smartphone usage. Check out the one/s that fits your needs and best helps you control your screen time.
  • Plan your week. If you have activities planned ahead of time for the week — like a hike, reading, a movie, or spending time with friends — you are less likely to fritter away hours on your phone.
  • Leave your phone at home. Just a decade ago we spent full days away from home running errands, visiting friends, and exploring the outdoors — all without our phones. The world kept turning. Nothing fell to pieces. So start small. Go to the grocery store without your phone. Next, have dinner with friends. Then, go on a full day excursion. Wean yourself off your device and reclaim your days and strengthen your relationships.
  • Establish/enforce free family zones. Modeling control in your phone use helps your kids to do the same. Establish phone free zones such as homework time, the dinner table, family activities, and bedtime. The key here is that once you establish the phone free zones, be sure to enforce them. A lot of parents (me included) get lax after a while in this area. Research products that allow you to set rules and time limits for apps and websites. McAfee Safe Family helps you establish limits with pre-defined age-based rules that you can be customized based on your family’s needs.
  • Delete unused apps. Give this a try: Delete one social app at a time, for just a day or a week, to see if you need it. If you end up keeping even one time-wasting app off your phone, the change will be well worth it.
  • Engage with people over your phone. If you are in the line at the grocery store, waiting for a show to begin, or hanging out at your child’s school/ sports events, seek to connect with people rather than pull out your phone. Do this intentionally for a week, and it may become a habit!
  • Do one thing at a time. A lot of wasted device time happens because we are multi-tasking — and that time adds up. So if you are watching a movie, reading, or even doing housework put your phone in another room — in a drawer. Try training yourself to focus on doing one thing at a time.smartphone screen time
  • Give yourself a phone curfew. We’ve talked about phone curfews for kids to help them get enough sleep but how about one for parents? Pick a time that works for you and stick to it. (I’m choosing to put my phone away at 8 p.m. every night.)
  • Use voice recorder, notes app, or text. Spending too much time uploading random content? Curb your urge to check or post on social media by using your voice recorder app to speak your thoughts into. Likewise, pin that article or post that photo to your notes to catalog it in a meaningful way or text/share it with a small group of people. These few changes could result in big hours saved on social sites.
  • Turn off notifications. You can’t help but look at those notifications so change your habitual response by turning off all notifications.
  • Limit, don’t quit. Moderation is key to making changes stick. Try limiting your social media time to 10 minutes a day. Choose a time that works and set a timer if you need to. There’s no need to sever all ties with social media just keep it in its proper place.

Slow but Specific Changes

Lastly, go at change slowly (but specifically) and give yourself some grace. Change isn’t easy. You didn’t rack up those screen time stats overnight. You’ve come to rely on your phone for a lot of tasks as well as entertainment. So, there’s no need to approach this as a life overhaul, a digital detox, or take an everything or nothing approach. Nor is there a need to trumpet your social departure to your online communities. Just take a look at your reality and do what you need to do to take back your time and control that unruly third child once and for all. You’ve got this!

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