Want to induce an anxiety attack? Just Google phone addiction (if you do it on your mobile phone it is even more effective) It is the stuff nightmares are made of. By now we have all realised that the introduction of the mobile phone had a profound effect on our lives and the quality of our lives. I am reasonably sure that life will never go back to the way it was before 24-hour news cycles, social media and being connected 24/7. But that does not mean that we can throw our hands in the air because this is our new reality. The ability to set boundaries is still in your hands (just put the phone down so that you can grasp it)
No phones at the table
My friend recently threw out the comfortable couches in her sitting room (she threw the television out too) and replaced it with a big dining room table. When you go and visit, you now sit around the table; it is literally the centre of her home. And it is awesome.
Over the years, kitchen and dining room tables have been replaced with kitchen islands, counters and eating on your lap in front of the television. And in the process we have forgotten the value of sitting around a table, sharing stories and good food. This is an integral part of growing relationships and being connected.
And just as having the TV in the background is not conducive to family dinner, so is checking your every few minutes. It doesn’t matter whether you are checking your emails or Googling to see what is the average speed of a cheetah; it can wait until after dinner. And then I am not even talking about my pet peeve, the funny youtube video, that you just have to show everybody, one-by-one while the rest look on.
Research has even shown that being on your phone during meals can lead to weight gain. When your brain is engaged with something else while you are eating, you don’t realise how much you are eating and tend to overeat. Even if you don’t have a dining room table anymore, make at least one meal per day unplugged. And yes that applies even if it is not a big family meal, but just you eating by yourself. Be in the moment for those few moments. Taste the food, enjoy the company and give yourself a break from the rest of the world.
No phones in Mom’s taxi
Yes, I know it is illegal to be on your phone while driving, I am talking about the passengers. And to be technical, I am also not talking about using a tablet to keep the kids busy on a 10-hour trip through the Karoo. I am talking about making Mom’s Taxi an unplugged zone.
As much as sitting around the dining room table looking into each other’s eyes is important to forge connections, there are also times when it is easier to tell a story when you are not the focus of somebody’s attention. Over the years many teenagers have found it easier to talk about difficult or embarrassing topics when they know mom or dad needs to keep their eyes on the road.
Another advantage of the car-conversation is that you have a captive audience, literally. Nobody is storming off in a huff, in the car you have nowhere to go. Or you used to have nowhere to go, but now your phone allows you to escape mentally even if you are physically still in the car.
Without us noticing, phones have stolen this time from us. And yes this goes two ways, children have often mentioned how they will get into the car very excited about something that happened, only to find mom on her phone talking to somebody else.
The school run might not be the most exciting part of your day, but by making it a sacred no-phone zone, you create a unique opportunity to have conversations and build relationships.
No phones in bedrooms
No surprise in this one. We all know that phones should not sleep in bedrooms and still most of us can reach our phones in the middle of the night without opening our eyes or turning on a light. I know there are sometimes good reasons why you want your phone to be accessible during the night and sometimes I am good with the “my phone is just charging, I won’t use it”. But most of the time I am not. Even though I know it is not good for me the last thing I do on most nights is to check social media. And yes, “check” can easily turn into half an hour or an hour if something is interesting happening. And the same thing happens in the mornings. If I wake before my alarm instead of going back to sleep I often spend those 10-15 minutes to check my phone.
“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. So even though you might be very good at not checking your phone until morning, your cortisol levels still rise every time you hear a notification or see the light flickering. And it is a vicious cycle because increased cortisol levels end up impairing your prefrontal cortex which in return decreases self-control.
When it comes to teenagers, it is important to remember that they apparently did not grow up with the rule that if somebody phones or send a message after eight at night, it means somebody must have died. We are well aware of how the effect of bullying is exacerbated by the fact that it continues 24/7. But what few parents think about is the effect on your daughter when she gets a teary WhatsApp at three o’clock from her best friend who just broke up with her boyfriend or had a massive fight with her parents. While you think your daughter is sound asleep, she is running a counselling session in the middle of the night.
So yes keeping bedrooms unplugged might be the most obvious, but also the hardest of them all. And you will have to be creative with things like alarms. But it is also the single change that will have the biggest effect on your life and the lives of your children.
There is, of course, a fourth place where the use of phones should be limited and that is at school or work. But that is a whole story on its own. I don’t think life will ever go back to the way it was before phones, and I am not sure I would want it to, but that does not mean that we can not take control back from our phones and ensure that our online life does not kill our actual life. For more information on the effect of continuous phone usage on our brains, read this article by Catherine Price – Putting down your phone may help you live longer.
Another trick that might help you break the phone addiction is to change your screen to Black-and-white. Click here for step-by-step instructions if you want to try that.
Which areas of your life do you consider to be unplugged? And what effect has banning phones from these places had on your life?
Renate is a resource developer, blogger and technology integration specialists for schools. Starting her career as a maths teacher in 2006, she quickly became interested in the opportunities technology can bring to the learning process. For four years Renate was in charge of managing the introduction of 1-to-1 devices at Rhenish Girls’ High School in Stellenbosch before she decided to venture out on her own and offer her experience to other schools. Renate now provides professional development and consult on planning and implementing digital learning on a freelance basis. Read more…