Each year, more studies are published confirming our reluctant suspicions that smartphone addiction is pervasive and damaging. Even when our phones aren’t going off, we still feel the vibrating rings in a condition called “phantom vibrations.” Receiving a constant feed of texts and notifications is so common that we’re developing separation anxiety… for smartphones.
Our favorite and most convenient tech tools seem to have turned on us, but the antidote doesn’t have to be an absolute purge of screens. Introducing some moderation to your (and your family’s) tech consumption can steer you toward more meaningful relationships and fewer phantom vibrations.
1. Refrain from checking your phone in the morning
Starting your day doesn’t have to be a recap of everything you missed online while you were asleep. Forego the morning notifications and e-mails, and use the time to make your own tech-free routine. Google design ethicist Tristan Harris writes that instead of framing our morning around a menu of missed online experiences, we should frame it around our actual needs. Brew coffee. Eat a balanced breakfast for once. Walk the cat.
2. Leave your phone at home once a week
An attachment to smartphones is often the result of underlying “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, according to Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a cognitive behavioral therapist based in New York City. She recommends leaving your phone at home at least one day each week in order to be more present (even if it’s only for a day). The fear of missing out often stems from feelings of inadequacy, Cohen says, and “the more someone can become aware of their underlying fear the less likely they will have the same deep need for the phone.” If ditching your device for a whole day is too overwhelming, start smaller. Leave it behind while running errands or taking lunch.
3. Keep moving
An unfortunate side effect of staring at screens is that it can promote sedentary behavior. Committing to taking tech breaks and moving around in between scrolling and posting can reduce stress and help to make interactions with technology more meaningful. Chiropractor Dr. Steven Shoshany warns against “text neck,” pain and soreness in the upper back, shoulders, and neck that can ail anyone who tilts their head down too often to view a screen. Besides taking breaks from screen-gazing, Dr. Shoshany recommends holding your phone at eye level as often as possible. He says to spend one whole day being mindful of your posture and how your interaction with tech affects it: “Any prolonged period when your head is looking down is a time when you are putting excessive strain on your neck.”
4. Talk more and text less
Face-to-face communication is preferable, but even phone and video calling have proven to be more meaningful forms of interpersonal connection than messaging. At a time when young people face anxiety over live interactions and scores of us have “friends” we might never meet, it’s more crucial than ever to start talking to each other. Sure, there are times when a short text will suffice, but if you find you’re typing it out more often than not you should make an effort to reacquaint yourself with the faces and voices of your friends and family.
5. Make family dinners phone-free
The importance of daily (or near-daily) family dinners for healthy adolescent development has been well-documented. Clinical psychologist Dr. Beatrice Tauber Prior says that having tech-free family dinners strengthens bonds and gives children security in knowing time is set aside for problem-solving and conversation. For families looking to cut down on screen use, dinnertime is the perfect place to start.
6. Observe the 20-20 rule
Many people find that their job requires staring at screens daily, but there are still healthy habits you can practice to give your body a break. Dr. Alex Tauberg, a chiropractor from Pittsburgh, recommends the 20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes you find yourself staring at a screen, take a break and walk around for at least 20 seconds to help prevent postural strain. Many optometrists also tout the 20-20-20 rule to save your eyes: after 20 minutes with a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Limiting screen time to 20 minutes at a time can also help to set boundaries on your browsing and help you manage your time.
7. Start journaling… on paper
Do you remember what your handwriting looks like? Gathering your thoughts in a journal might seem a quaint method for self-reflection, but it’s the perfect antithesis to the wild stimulation of the internet. No pop-up ads, newsletters, or messages from friends can distract you while you’re writing, and you’ll discover how liberating it can be to practice expressive writing that isn’t tailored for shares and likes.
8. Don’t sleep with your phone
It’s time to buy a real alarm clock. Keeping your phone next to you in bed lessens the quality and quantity of your sleep, especially if you check it intermittently (and you probably do). This is especially true for adolescents: they need the sleep and will almost certainly be on any screens within arms-reach. Not only does the stimulation of answering e-mails and crushing candies in bed keep your mind active, but the blue light from your phone or laptop actually tricks you into “daytime mode” and disrupts your sleep by suppressing your production of melatonin. If you must cuddle with your device each night, using an app like f.lux or Night Shift (or using a night mode on some devices) reduces your exposure to blue light.
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