How To Break Your Smartphone Addiction - Without Going Cold Turkey

Guest author Tasso Roumeliotis is founder and CEO of Location Labs.

I’ve spent more than a decade building a business around creating mobile apps that help families stay safe and connected. Though my livelihood depends on everyone’s continued use of mobile phones, several recent statistics about our relationships with phones have alarmed me.

Giving up phones completely isn’t the answer, of course. But the alarm these issues raise in me is insistent. I began to understand it better one recent evening when I noticed how nuts it made me to see my 12-year-old daughter hunched over her smartphone, texting like crazy. I wanted to grab it and say, “Go outside! Read a book! Climb a tree!” And then I realized: all this had gone through my mind during a brief moment… when I’d looked up from my own phone.

The Parental Gut-Check

The surest gut-check I know for whether or not something is a good idea is if I’d want my kids to do it — or to see me doing it. For instance, should I tell a lie, even a little one? Maybe not. Or indulge in dessert every day? Nope. So when I justify my own constant phone use as being “necessary to my work” or “just part of life today,” I have to admit I’m being a hypocrite.

The thing is, I truly believe that mobile technology offers a lot of good — safety, global community, boundary-pushing forms of entertainment. So why can’t I shake that feeling that it’s using me more than I’m using it?

Maybe because it is.

A lot of what goes on a mobile phone is built to be addictive. And that’s where I’ve had to draw a line — for myself, first.

This has meant being honest with myself about my own habits. How can I possibly raise my children to have a healthy relationship with technology unless I can show them what that actually looks like? I have to walk the walk.

5 Mobile Phone Rules

So here are a few ways I’m getting started on my own habits, before I work with my wife to institute real—and honest—guidelines for the whole family:

  1. Getting online is grounded. I travel often. My rule for myself? No connecting on planes. No Wi-Fi, no phone. This is my time to think, to read (a book made of paper!), to just be. To sit and be absolutely amazed that we’re 30,000 feet in the air, looking down at clouds. Something will be lost in my life if I ever fail to appreciate the wonder of that.
  2. The best part of waking up is… waking up. I have vowed to leave my phone and computer alone until I’ve had my morning run, greeted my wife and children, finished a pot of green tea, looked out our kitchen window, and eaten breakfast. Then, and only then, will I check in online. There’s nothing happening first thing in the morning that can’t wait an hour or two (or three!). If it’s an absolute emergency, someone will call. And starting the day in that peaceful state pays dividends, many times over, for every aspect of my health.
  3. Keep track of time. I have begun setting the timer on my phone when I check in on social media. For example, I will usually set the timer at 10 minutes to check for birthdays on Facebook or to scan what articles are trending. The maximum time I allow myself at any one social media session is 20 minutes (if I want to reconnect with someone or do some deeper reading). If I don’t set this boundary, it’s down the rabbit hole I go, wondering where the time went. And using a phone’s built-in timer function is a really satisfying way to use its “power of good” to combat its “darker side.”
  4. Arriving home is sacred. I work a lot. When I come home at the end of the day (which doesn’t even happen every day), I may not have seen my kids for as long as 12 hours. So the moment I arrive, the phone goes away. So far, that’s meant I’ve spent a couple minutes furiously emailing on the front porch, but only so I could stick to my promise to leave my phone on the table by the door, with my keys and wallet. When I get home, I want to be there. For real. Answering emails can wait.
  5. The phone is a camera — just a camera. Like most parents, I love to take pictures of my kids, especially when we choose pumpkins at Halloween or a tree at Christmas. And like most parents, I love to share those pictures. But I realized that pausing for a moment to snap a photo is a lot different than taking a photo, saving it, going to Facebook, sharing it, tagging everyone, noting the location and then responding to comments. That can wait until later. So these days, when I enjoy the fact that a phone is also a camera (which, by the way, is really cool), I treat it like it’s only a camera. All the other stuff can come later, when my kids are in bed.

How about you? Is there anything you don’t like about your relationship with your phone? What are your plans for taking the reins? Please share your own tips — I’d love to hear about them and give them a try.

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.