Please don’t pretend you don’t have an addiction to your phone. You do, I do, and so does everyone else around us–and it’s harming us. It is our harming relationships, like when we’re focused on today’s BuzzFeed-whatever and our 5 year old is trying to give us a hug. My phone has become something I cannot leave the house without, even though I am of the generation that spent half my life outside of my home with nothing but pay phones. Back then it didn’t seem odd or uncomfortable at all. It just was. And now we are faced with the modern dilemma of responsible phone use. If we’re not careful, we can waste hours on it while ignoring our actual responsibilities. We have all been there. There is something about the virtual world inside the phone that draws us in. It feels evil. There is something dark about it. We monitor our kids’ electronic time and curtail video game playing, TV watching, and iPad playing, but who is monitoring us? Do we not also need limits?
I recognized a short while ago that my phone is a problem. It keeps me from my children, my chores, and my life. Here are some steps I’ve taken to limit my phone use. Maybe some of them can help you:
1. Put your watch back on.
This one is simple and very effective. I realized that I mostly grab for my phone to check the time, but as soon as I do that, there are messages waiting to be answered and Facebook posts and a myriad of other things that will distract me. This is unnecessary. Instead, I went in my jewelry drawer and pulled out my old watch that I haven’t seen in years, a beautiful gift from my husband, and put it on again. This cut down on about 50% of the time I had my phone in my hand.
2. Schedule time to power the phone off.
During the school year when I am teaching my children, I have informed my husband (and anyone else who might be trying to reach me) that the phone goes off during school hours. That way, even if I reach for it, I won’t go through the process of powering it up because I will remember it is school time, not phone time. Since that was so successful, I also will power the phone off when I am visiting with friends or having conversations, so that I won’t be distracted by the phone. Strangely enough, you will find that people will wonder where you are if you turn off your phone for a few hours. It is such a strange time we live in when everyone knows your every move and it’s unusual to be out of touch. But by being “out of touch” on your phone for a while, you can focus on the people you need to be in touch with, both physically and mentally (the little people who are watching you very carefully).
3. Phones don’t belong on dates.
This one is a difficulty because my husband and I find ourselves saying things like “check on your map” or “google this or that” when we are out together and that’s okay, but again…getting sidetracked is a problem and the next thing you know you’re staring silently at your phone instead of at your spouse. This drives my husband crazy. I would say the power off solution would work, except there’s always the babysitter text which could show up that needs answering. The solution is to put the phone away–out of sight–and check periodically for emergencies from the sitter.
4. No phones in bed–sort of.
I’m still working on this. Studies show that looking at screens before sleep disrupts sleep patterns and causes sleeplessness. But it does seem to be the best place to catch up on whatever you missed during the day. It’s a place where there’s no guilt for browsing, since everyone is asleep and you’re having down time. It’s the 21st century “reading” before bed. I do most of my reading of the news on my phone. The one thing I try to do is take cues from my husband. If he is reading his device, I will read mine. If he puts his down, I do too. No one wants to be kept awake by a blue light in their face.
5. Try leaving it at home.
This one hurts, I know. But a short trip to the grocery store really doesn’t require a phone. A trip to the park doesn’t require a phone. None of us are so important that we must be “in touch” every second of the day. If we are honest, we know we don’t take our phones so people can reach us (because no one answers the phone anymore) but we have them to be our boredom crushers. We want them for waiting in lines, sitting in the park while kids play, or waiting at a doctor’s office. It’s about entertainment, not emergency. Do you really need to be entertained 24/7? We try to teach our kids to entertain themselves– to play with sticks and build forts. But we are not willing to entertain ourselves without our phones…this is not going to work. Next time you go for a walk or to the store, leave the phone. It’s going to feel like a limb is missing, but eventually it will feel more normal and you will notice the sky is brighter and the flowers smell sweeter. There is life out here, be present in it.