Now that my son is a sophomore in college, he’s had some mental and physical distance from us, giving him insightful and at times critical perspective on our household. It’s rewarding when he appreciates home cooked meals, fresh smelling towels and sanitary conditions, but it’s frustrating when he points out flaws. Especially mine.
“Mom, seriously! Can you put your phone down? I’m trying to talk to you!”
It’s a real wake-up call when your teenage kids vote you the number one cellular offender in the house. Aren’t teens supposed to be the worst transgressors of screen addiction? It’s super embarrassing and hypocritical when my teens call me out for modeling bad behavior, which apparently I’ve banned.
To make matters worse, I recently complained to my doctor that I’m not sleeping well. While I do try to get eight hours and go to bed at almost the same time every night, something peculiar happens between 10p.m. and 6a.m.
My doctor asked me what I do when I wake up in the middle of the night. Without hesitating, I told him that reach for my phone, check emails and read articles to help me go back to sleep.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized that this habit is counterproductive and harmful. Am I a phone addict? Between modeling bad behavior for my kids, and not getting enough rest, I knew something had to change. It wasn’t easy, but here’s what I did:
1. I banned the phone from my bedroom. Years ago I got into the habit of using my phone as an alarm clock. It rapidly deteriorated from an alarm clock to an all night seducer, that enticed me with its dangerous blue light and constantly updating content.
Who wouldn’t want all-night access to news alerts, disasters, horoscopes and Facebook updates from Australia... Admittedly, I knew this was detrimental to my physical and mental health, but as it is, it’s hard for me to shut my mind off, so instead of working on that, I fed the beast.
According to the Mayo Clinic (and countless other reputable sources) nighttime cell phone use interferes with brain health, sleep and body functions, to say the least.
At first I tried to set limits by not allowing myself to check the phone at night under any circumstances, but inevitably I’d find an excuse for just checking the updated forecast to predict the impossible-to-predict school delay, or some other equally as absurd justification. So I bought an old fashioned, battery-operated digital alarm clock and set the display to dim. My phone now charges in the kitchen.
Miraculously, I’m not waking up as often at night, and when I do, I fall back to sleep quickly. Some people need stuff confiscated and strict limits set; that includes 5-year-olds, and me.
2. Set family limits. Equipped with my renewed sense of control (and energy from a good night’s sleep?), I set out to establish (and actually enforce) limits.
My husband and I agreed to a strict, no phones at dinner policy, which amazingly, we are both modeling and enforcing. In the first place, we’re a loud and engaged family, eager to raucously share and vent about our days. Without the phone distraction, some of our conversations now reach fever pitch, but disconnecting has allowed us to reconnect and interact in an even more meaningful way.
It’s amazing the stuff I hear when my family is talking without prompts from the latest Snapchat nonsense, and how much more effectively I can listen when I’m not distracted by my own Facebook alerts.
In fact, I’ve turned all sounds and alerts off entirely and actually feel like a noose has been lifted.
3. Resist the need for immediate gratification. With my phone out of my bedroom and off the dinner table, I realized that another step was necessary during this initial recovery phase. I decided to not check my phone obsessively throughout the day and I’m still working on setting limits.
This is tough because I have a need to remain available to my kids throughout the day, but the truth is, there are still landlines, my husband’s phone, and other means to contact me in case of an emergency.
This step was, and still is, the most difficult for me because it relies strictly on self-control and motivation. Hmmm...
Disconnecting from technology for the sake of greater human connectivity is not a new concept, but employing it meaningfully, is new to me, and it’s a challenging and demanding process.
The stress of losing my phone for certain periods of time made me anxious, but the rewards accumulated quickly, incentivizing me to continue. The obvious benefit of mindful presentness and connection were immediately apparent. I now find myself looking at my loved ones differently.
I’m not missing words, context or facial expressions because my head is not constantly whipping around to welcome incoming texts. And I’m not in a rush to finish conversations so I can check my phone.
In fact, my phone has become a lot less attractive and relegating it to its new place in my life ― on a counter in the kitchen ― has been a welcome relief.