Get off your phone!

Of relevance to many of us, this month’s topic has as much to do with health as food and fitness. When in my car recently, I tuned into an interesting radio programme on smartphone use and children. It was so interesting that I stayed in my car for a further 30 mins listening to the end. The programme panel comprised of a number of experts from different areas including education, psychology and technology.

They discussed the problems of the increased use of smartphones by children including sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, poor body image and subtle bullying (they forgot to mention the more worrying warning in this week’s news headlines on the scale of online abuse).

We heard of family rows over the amount of use, loss of connection and general lack of balance.

We also heard from a former young smartphone addict who described how social media had become their life. They found themselves on their phone all hours: before school, after school and into the night.

A few interesting stats I came across on this subject include:

  • 70% of 12 year olds and older have a smartphone (Statista 2018)
  • Snapchat, Instagram and Whatsapp are the most popular social media platforms. Games are more popular with boys with Fortnite being the current favourite.
  • Two thirds of 16-19 year olds check their phones in the middle of the night.

Most of us would agree that phones and technology bring many benefits. The key questions here are how much is too much and is our children’s use of smartphones and other technology out of control.

Four things I heard in the discussion particularly concerned me:

  • The technology panel member telling us of the thousands of designers whose sole goal is to increase the amount of time we spend on their apps and games.
  • Tech design being increasingly influenced by behavioural psychology and neuroscience for example notification alerts in red which read warning to us (do you ever ignore these?), clocking up likes to get that instant dopamine (happy chemical) hit to the brain, and so on.
  • The increasing need in children for likes and validation and how this explodes when they go into secondary school.
  • That the real competition for smartphones is our time and attention (This reminds me of a remark by Reed Hastings Netflix CEO and cofounder that Netflix biggest rival is not other media service providers but sleep. And they are winning!).

Smartphone use is not so much a case of good or bad but a conscious choice of what you want to spend time online and how much.

Be the change you want to see

Among a number of suggested approaches to help reduce digital dependency was the importance of role modelling from parents and us practicing what we preach.

Our phone use has a nasty habit of creeping up without us noticing. A few minutes here and there (and let’s face it, is it ever really only a few minutes?), day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year adds up to a whole LOT of time. Especially when one of the most common complaints people have is lack of time!

To raise awareness of your own phone use, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How much time do you spend a day on your phone? (For an instant answer, go to settings, battery and then scroll down to you see how much time you have spent on each app in the last 24 hours and also the last 2 days).
  2. How would you feel if you lost your phone?
  3. How would you feel if you had to give up your phone for 1 month?

You may be brave enough to take the Smartphone Compulsion Test (developed by David Greenfield, PhD, of the Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine). According to Greenfield, a ‘yes’ answer to more than 5 of the 15 questions indicates that you are likely to have a problematic relationship with your phone. Be prepared!

Most of us are likely to underestimate the time we spend on our phone. Ironically again, technology comes to our aid as we can now track and limit our use (see Tips and Techniques below for how to do this).

Deloitte’s 2017 annual survey on UK mobile usage produced some interesting figures at a national level:

  • 38% of respondents believe that they are using their phone too much with this rising to 56% in the 16-24 year olds. In the case of children, 60% of parents believe they use their phone too much.
  • Two thirds of 16-19 year olds check their phones in the middle of the night.
  • 79% of us check our phones in the hour before we go to sleep and over half within a quarter an hour of waking.

My most alarming discovery here and for me, the real wake-up call is that the tech giants of the world severely limit their children’s use of technology. Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t allow their children to have phones until age 14 and when asked what his children thought of the latest iPad, Steve Jobs replied ‘They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home’.

Get in Touch

Whether it is digital dependency, tired and bleary eyed from regular 3 am waking or needing to calm an overanxious mind, if you (or someone you know) are struggling and could benefit from help, get in touch by emailing me at Think Healthy Be Healthy for a free no obligation confidential chat.

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Tips and Techniques

To reduce your phone time:

  • Download a tracking app such as Moment, Forest (which rewards you by planting real trees) or Hold for students which offers rewards such as snacks or cinema tickets. In their digital health drive, Apple’s new iOS 12 will have two new helpful features App Limits and Downtime. For children, use technology to set boundaries and limits rather than you being the bad cop!
  • Take up the challenge of Scroll Free September. Choose from options including going Cold Turkey, being a Social Butterfly or a Sleeping Dog. You can sign up for Scroll Free September at
  • Delete apps you don’t want to go on and keep the first screen of your phone almost empty aside from functional apps like settings and google maps.
  • Choose a text screensaver which will remind you to be wise with your phone time such as Get off your phone or Put the phone down!
  • Disable phone notifications
  • Buy yourself a proper alarm clock and banish phones from bedrooms,