Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You

Smartphone users between 18- to 24-years-old check their devices 86 times per day and half of our teens say they are addicted to their smart phone. About 45% of 10–12-year-olds in the United States have a smartphone.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, 17% of 5- to10-year-olds, 23% of 11- to 13-year-olds, and 32% of 14- to 17-year-olds spent more than 4 hours a day on a screen device. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, those numbers have increased to 44%, 47% and 52%, respectively. (See Screen Time Statistics 2021: Your Smartphone is Hurting You and 40 Eye Catching Cell Phone Usage Statistics for more.)

You might ask, “So what?” Well…the more time our children spend engaged with a smartphone or other screen device, the less time they engage in imaginative play, other unstructured play, or face-to-face interactions. In addition, “smart phones are addictive,” they impair sleep, and they increase the risk for anxiety and depression in our children and teens. (For more on the risk of unbridled cell phone use, see Why Wait.)

The real question to ask is:” What can I do about it?” After all, smartphones are pervasive in our world and our children’s world. Somehow we have to take charge of our smartphone before they take charge of us. We need to model healthy “smartphone management” for our children and create an environment in which they can learn those “smart phone management” skills as well. Here are six tips to help you do that:

  • Turn off the notifications. Your smartphone calls for your attention with every buzz, ding, and flash. By turning the notifications off, it will call less often. You’ll be less distracted and better able to connect with those around you. And, just to be clear, the world will survive without us responding to every buzz, ding, and flash.
  • Turn it gray. The colors of the smartphone screen invite us to look at it as well. The little red dot screams for us to click and discover who texted, emailed, or left a message. Setting your screen to grayscale can help limit this call. Specifically, some studies suggest people are less drawn to and less distracted by the grayscale screen. Try it for a week and see what you discover. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Enjoy a family “unplugged day.” Set aside one day a week (or at least one evening starting at 5pm and lasting until the next morning) as a time to unplug. Turn off all smart phones and other screens. While you have no technology to interfere, enjoy family time. Play a game. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Enjoy some technology-free-family-fun. (Read Unplug for a Family Fun Night to learn more.)
  • Enjoy some screen time together. Make some screen time a shared experience rather than allowing it all to remain an individual experience. Watch a movie together. Play a game together. Watch YouTube videos together. Doing so will help teach compromise and negotiation. It will also allow you the opportunity to have fun with your child as well as the opportunity to talk with them about messages communicated on-line.
  • Encourage a tech-free knowledge search. You know, go old school. Determine to search for knowledge on one topic each week without using Google, Alexi, Siri, or other internet service. Instead, go to the library. Use a book or encyclopedia. Go to the museum, science center, or aviary to gain the information. Make it a family outing. Going old school in a search for knowledge is like a treasure hunt. Have fun with it.
  • Finally, enjoy device free meals. Yes, put the smartphone aside while enjoying a family meal. Leave the phones in another room and commit to interacting with your family during mealtimes. Talk about the day. Talk about the food. Encourage one another. Compliment one another. Enjoy one another’s company. You will enjoy doing all this and more without the fear of an intrusion by way of your smartphone’s buzz, ding, or flash. Don’t worry, whoever calls, texts, messages, or continues a streak will still be there. You can enjoy the moment of face-to-face interaction with our family.

That’s six ways to take charge of your cell phone before it takes charge of you and teach your children to do the same. In full disclosure, I got these tips from the Wait Until 8th website under Best Practices. Check them out for at least 5 other tips you can use. Plus, they offer wonderful education, advice, and suggestions about managing smartphones in your family. A wonderful resource for you and your family.

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