(Moms cell phone addiction is a growing problem. I’ve had this article in my mind for years now, after a friend emailed me to ask about it. C.H., I’m sorry it took me so long to write this!)
In some ways, cell phones have made our lives simpler and better.
I love being able to deposit checks using my phone, rather than schlepping kids to the bank. I use apps that save money, others that track my spending and make budgeting easy, others help me earn money, others help me organize my time and meet my goals. I use DuoLingo to learn a second language, and my daughter pen-pals with a South African friend courtesy of an app. These things surely enrich life, or at least save time that can be spent on more precious things.
However, cell phones also present a problem: every time we pick up our phone to check email/social media, etc, we get a little jolt of dopamine that pings the reward centers in our brains. (A source article or two.)
Motivated by dopamine, we pick up our phones seeking a reward (an email, a like, a text). When we get what we want (the reward), the habit-forming cycle is complete. Stimulus —> response —> reward. Ding! Operant conditioning at its finest.
It’s easy for a cell phone to go from a useful tool to an addiction.
For me, this happened after my preemie was born. Before that, I had a good handle on my cell phone use. I had rules for its use that kept the thing in its place.
But after Josiah’s birth, I was spending a lot of time pumping, and in the middle of the night, when one can’t turn on a light to read a book, it’s easy to pick up the phone and read stuff to pass the time.
I also developed a bad habit of reading the news online, which did little for the anxiety that clung to me like mud on a shovel.
I don’t want my kids to see my face in a phone all the time.
For one, because I want to set a good example. I want them to use tools, not to let tools use them.
But also because, as Toni Morrison said, I want my kids to see my eyes light up when they walk in the room. When a mom is addicted to her cell phone, she has more negative interactions with her kids.
So here are the cell phone rules I created for myself and other steps I took to make sure I’m not a mom addicted.
First: I downloaded a tracking app. I used QualityTime, free. The first step is to identify the problem. Seeing that figure pop up every day was disturbing. Is it in line with my goals to spend the equivalent of a part-time job on my phone every day? Um, no.
I removed notifications and apps. I have never had notifications on my phone, having removed those years ago, but I went a step further. I don’t have a feed reader app (I use Bloglovin’ online). There is no Gmail, Facebook or Twitter app on my phone. I only have Instagram, because one can’t use Instagram without the app. Breaking a bad habit is often as easy as making the habit inconvenient.
In addition, I do a monthly digital declutter. I have a reminder set up in Google calendar, and each month it texts me a reminder to do this – an example of how technology can be useful and good! I re-assess the apps on my phone and delete if they’re not serving me. (I also delete photos and other digital junk from Google Drive and my phone during this time.)
Every company now wants you to download their app, but most of the time, I find that using my laptop is much faster. For example, shopping online nearly always takes me less time when I use a computer instead of a phone.
I don’t do Facebook. I have an account because it’s necessary for some of the blogging courses I take that have private groups, but it’s for work, not personal. (So if you have been trying to friend me for 5+ years on FB and wondering why I’m ignoring you, don’t take it personally!)
I limit social media use to business hours. For me, that’s 5-8 am. The only exception is Instagram because, as I mentioned, I have to use the phone to upload pics, and it’s dark-thirty when I write, so that doesn’t work.
No phones at the table. I created this rule after I got married (after discussing it with hubby of course!). He had a bit of an email addiction (easy for a self-employed person to develop) when we got married but has overcome it by leaving his phone at home when we go off on weekends, and leaving it on his desk when we eat together. I don’t allow my kids to use phones when we eat either. (Even when I’m alone, mindless eating is a great way to gain weight and deny oneself pleasure, so nope.)
I turned off data and only use wi-fi. This was motivated in part by a desire to lower my phone bill, but the other reason was because it naturally decreased my phone usage. I can’t use the phone when I’m in the car, for example. I’m a happy TING customer and my phone bill is less than half what it used to be. One thing I love about TING? They’re always sending out emails with tips on how to lower your bill. Who does that?! That’s where I picked up this tip.
Screen Sabbath. Our family did this for years but then forgot, so we recently re-instituted it. On Saturdays we all stay off our phones and devices. It’s so, so easy to slip back into bad habits. I have to stay on top of myself with this topic!
So moms, have you ever felt addicted to your phone? What do you do to limit cell phone use?
p.s. A little knowledge of how brain chemicals work is a valuable thing. For example, you can hack your brain’s dopamine response to your advantage.
“… create competing motivations so when your brain craves something, you can properly weigh it against what you really want. This means writing down your goals (emphasis mine), keeping them available to you, and constantly reminding yourself of what positive goals you want to achieve. This allows your brain to automatically shift to remember your long-term goals and ignore the cravings that have a negative effect on them”
Here is a fantastic article about using dopamine to be more productive. Giving in to an addiction has the effect of decreasing dopamine, leading to more of the addictive behavior. This article has several easy ideas. The TL;DR is this: make to-do lists, engage in hobbies you love, establish rewards for yourself when you meet your goals.
If you’re struggling in this area, this book might help. I have it in the Kindle app. On my phone. Ah the irony! 😉