When it comes to my children, I have no problem setting screen time limits. And they have no problem accepting those limits. One show on the iPad in the morning and one at night on school days. Looser limits on the weekends. Easy peasy. But, when it comes to my own screen time, it's a whole different story. In fact, the thought of separating from my phone makes me break out in a cold sweat.
I've seen all the research and know how bad it is to be glued to my phone all day (and all night) long. From chronic neck pain to making it harder to fall asleep at night, there are plenty of health reasons to cut down on phone usage. From the social side, the reasons are equally compelling – how many times have I been looking at my phone when I should be looking at my children? Or mindlessly reading and clicking around to unwind at night instead of doing something more productive and relaxing? Plus, what kind of example am I setting for my kids by being glued to my phone? They're still young, but at some point they're going to start calling me out for my hypocrisy.
On the flip side, my phone does lots of wonderful things. I track my gym gains in an app that keeps me motivated to keep going back and working harder at my fitness. I keep in touch with friends via Facebook. I am well-informed about the world around me through my avid news consumption. And my job requires me to spend a certain amount of time each day on the phone – not just checking emails, but also developing content and website features for mobile users. I need to be deeply engaged with my mobile device to be good at my job.
For me, it's all about moderation. I can't go cold turkey, but I know for my mental and physical well-being, I need to find a way to moderate and limit my screen time. Checking my phone is such a habit for me that I don't even know I'm doing it many times. As counter intuitive as it seems, the very technology that I can't put down might hold the key to helping me wean myself.
Yesterday as part of my New Year's self-evaluation, I decided to download an app that will track my phone usage. Some parents use these apps to monitor their children's screen time, but I'm using it for myself. There are several of these apps out there and the one I chose is called Moment. I can pick how many hours per day I'll allow myself on the phone and alarm will sound when I hit my limit. It also will "gently" beep me every 15 minutes to remind me I'm still on the phone. It tracks both the minutes I've used and the number of times I pick up my phone. As of 9:54 this morning, I'd already picked it up 17 times – whoa!
The basic tracking is free, but for $19.99 a year you can upgrade to a family package which allows you to monitor all your family's time on their iDevices and even enforce screen-free time with the family during dinner or other set times. If you pick up the device during one of these screen-free times, the alarm will sound. I can see myself re-purposing that feature to keep myself from picking up the phone close to bedtime – no pick-ups after 9pm for better sleep.
Honestly, it feels a little extreme to me – do I really need an alarm to keep me from using my phone? But, habits are hard to break and maybe a little tough self-love is just what I need to change my behavior. Only time (and my app stats) will tell!
Are you addicted to your phone too? Share any strategies you've used to moderate your screen time in the comments.
Photo via Moment
Tracy Odell is the General Manager of the Parents Digital Network and mom to two boys. When she's not looking at her phone, she enjoys CrossFit, unabashedly listening to Taylor Swift and annoying her sons with hugs and kisses.