Addiction is a strong word as it implies destructive behaviour. Excessive smartphone usage is possibly more of an affliction than an addiction, depending on the level of dependency of the user. Either way, we all know it’s a problem, and we don’t really know how to tackle it.
We limit our kids screen time, take phones away as punishments, then give new phones or apps as rewards and gifts. But as adults in 2021, we can never truly understand what it is to have been brought up with screens from our earliest age. Pretty much every child I know today has been given a phone or ipad to entertain, amuse, placate and teach since they were very young. Despite this only being a 'thing' for the past decade or so, many parents can't imagine parenting without screens.
We worry about this generation of kids, but adults are as bad, often worse. We took to smartphones like ducks to water, pretty much everything can be done on the move, from tracking down and monitor our kids 24/7 to booking flights and online shopping. Smartphones give us an enormous sense of security.
I feel sorry for the smartphone generation kids who might struggle to live without one. They use it for literally everything every day, and they watch us do the same. We adults are just as addicted, only we are aware that we can manage without one. That doesn’t mean we put them down though. If you forgot your phone when you’re already in the car on the way to the shops do you just keep going? Chances are you go back indoors to get it for a myriad of reasons (excuses?) – what if the kids call, what if the alarm goes off, I can call mum on the way etc…
It calms me to clear out my inbox at the end of the day, in a similar manner as to how my mother would clean the kitchen and empty the dishwasher before she went to bed. I like to check notifications, read articles that I flicked through earlier in the day, answer texts that got ignored when I received them. But if I do this on my phone whilst in bed, I'm well aware that my sleep will suffer, both because of the blue light and the increased brain activity. So why do I do it?
I guess it’s like the glass (bottle!) of wine in the evening. I know it’s wasted calories and damaging to my health, but I also tell myself it will help me unwind and that I ‘deserve’ a treat. For some people, half an hour of insta is their treat, for kids, an hour of Minecraft….. the list is long.
So how to know if it’s turning from affliction to addiction? Ask yourself (and your kids) how you feel if you don’t have your phone or know where it is. Could you go for a phone free walk for a couple of hours without feeling nervous? Do you find yourselves wanting to reach for it during lunch out with friends or can you leave it on silent in your handbag? When you go to bed do you reach for a book or your phone?
Try to audit your phone usage for a few days, be aware of how many times you check it. Don’t make it the first thing you reach for when you get home, in a lift, in a queue….. make sure quality time with friends and family is phone free time. Be mindful of why you are reaching for it, is there a good reason for looking at it? For sure, often there is a compelling and important reason, but more often there isn’t. Yes you need to tell Johnny where and when you’re picking him up from football, but no you don’t need to check out that dress you saw in a shop window that you drove past. If it can wait – let it wait.
I struggle to sleep as a middle-aged menopausal woman (who sits in front of a screen most hours in a day!), but I never had issues as a teen yet today teens are struggling to get the deep, undisturbed sleep that they need. Let’s try to get a hold of this now before our kids end up with sleep and anxiety issues that could have been preventable.
is a detailed article on the relationship between smartphone usage and sleep disorders in young adults. It’s not the easiest read, but if you have a teen, it will give you some good pointers on how to spot warning signs.