It’s amazing to think about how quickly phones and other devices have become a fundamental part of our everyday lives. Not even a generation ago, the phone was something fixed to the wall at home that you answered when it rang or maybe let the answering machine pick up — and now it is a constant companion for most people.
Dr. Larry Rosen, research psychologist, professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and author of several books including The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, describes the dilemma many are facing now: “We have this device we love, that contains everything we could ever want — information, connection, our pictures, our music — but that is also driving us nuts and making us anxious about our world.”
Awareness is the first step toward developing a healthier relationship with technology. “There are lots of ways to do it, but we have to take stock and recognize where we are first,” says Rosen. There are apps that can monitor usage and report how many times a day and how many minutes a day a person is on the phone, and sometimes that’s enough to motivate change. Other times it takes another person pointing out the amount of time you’re spending on your phone and how it’s affecting your relationship with them. “There has to be a driving force,” he says, “You have to see where it is interfering to be motivated to make changes.”
Rosen has observed that even people who are trying hard to moderate their screen time can find it difficult. “I think most of us are aware of what it’s doing to us, we just don’t know what to do. I suggest starting slowly. After all, we didn’t get obsessed with our phones all of a sudden — it happened gradually over many years. You can’t just expect to give it up cold turkey. But there are ways to slowly back yourself out of being in the habit of checking your phone every five minutes.”
In studying people’s psychological reactions to technology for over 25 years, Rosen has discovered some techniques to help people develop a healthier relationship with their devices:
Plan specific times for daily breaks. For example, during certain times of the
day, set your alarm for 15 minutes and put your phone upside down on your
desk. When the alarm goes off, give yourself one minute to check in, then
reset for another 15 and just keep doing this until it feels comfortable. Then
you can start increasing. “I suggest 5-minute increments, working toward a
goal of 30 minutes,” says Dr. Rosen. “What this does is slowly wean you back
from something you slowly acquired.”
Designate places where tech is just not allowed. “The dinner table is a great
start,” recommends Rosen, “and that’s for parents, too. I also suggest the car;
that’s the perfect time to talk to your spouse or family.” Try unplugging when
you’re out for a walk or run, or at the park with your kids or your dog.
An hour before bed, put your phone or tablet downstairs or in another room.
These devices emit a lot of light in the blue light range, which stimulates
cortisol and shuts off melatonin, making your brain think it’s time to wake up
rather than go to sleep.
After taking a tech break with your family, talk about how it felt. Did you feel
anxious? Did you feel free? Did your kids notice, “Hey, Mommy and Daddy
paid more attention to us”? Did your spouse enjoy watching TV together
or lying in bed and talking instead of being on devices? This helps raise
awareness and motivation.
ACTIVITIES TO CALM AND CLEAR YOUR MIND
Rosen says that that nobody, child or adult, should be using a device for more
than two hours non-stop. “Even a 10-minute break ‘clears your brain out,’”
he explains. “Take breaks for things like mindful meditation, spending time in
nature, exercise, playing a musical instrument, talking to a friend, practicing a
foreign language, telling jokes — things we know are good for your brain.”