Screen Time Makeover: Adult Edition

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Most parents I know have stressed over the amount of screen time our kids have logged this year. With online school and no playgrounds or friends for reprieve, TV and iPads helped fill the void. We’ve chalked our kids’ screen time up to a necessary evil and one of the small things we can’t afford to sweat, but what about our screen time?

Normally, I am unaware of my phone’s whereabouts a good chunk of the time, but this past year I clung to it desperately. As my screen time ramped up, the distraction and doom scrolling left me feeling anxious and lethargic.  The more time I spent mindlessly searching for information and connection, the more disconnected and less present I felt as a person and mom.

I’m not proud of this, but I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve promised myself over and over that I will make the decision to stop scrolling aimlessly, but there’s a reason that neuroscientists have been utilized to help app designers. These little handheld robots are designed to be addictive, and once quarantine hit, I gave up the battle. 

The Cold Turkey Approach 

A few weeks ago, I lost my phone. I assumed I had temporarily misplaced it as usual, but this time it was really gone. I searched the recycling bin, turned my car inside out, interrogated my children, and bribed them with rewards for any information. Nothing. And all of these handy-dandy apps to locate your phone mean nothing if you are also equally negligent about charging said phone (I am now fairly confident I set it on the roof of my car and it went for a joy ride down I-5).

I spent a stressful twenty-four hours scouring the house, wracking my brain and mourning my memory which dissipated into the ether once I had children.  But after this? After this came a bit of peace. Some freedom. I felt like I came up for air.

I searched and waited for a week before I gave up and ordered a replacement phone, barely enough time to make a difference. But my phone’s absence gave me a sense of space and a craving for more of that feeling. For this one week I was unreachable. More focused. Playing more monster trucks and Barbies with my kids. Not ingesting constant news, or escaping to the bathroom to scroll for two minutes which ultimately turned into ten. I don’t want to think of how many moments I’ve missed because I fell down the comment section rabbit hole or had to watch a video of someone I don’t know on Instagram. Too many.

Remember Mapquest?

For a moment I considered purchasing a flip phone – the old school kind with no data. The kind I survived on just fine for years before the world was at our fingertips. It wouldn’t be so bad, right? I could use actual cameras. Communicate in words rather than gifs. Wait until I got home to check my e-mail. But Google maps? I don’t know if I can go back to the days of printing out directions and having to rely on strangers when I undoubtedly take a wrong turn. Would I have to buy an iPod again? How does one catch up on podcasts on a commute?

I know that phones, like it or not, are part of our daily lives, and a mindful coexistence is the only option.

So that’s what I’m doing, or at least trying to do. I have a few ground rules and mindset shifts for myself after this accidental digital detox. Thus far it feels refreshing, manageable, and the most intentional approach I’ve ever attempted. Some of these tactics I’ve heard time and time again, but wasn’t ready to implement. But if you’re feeling trapped in a phone rut and looking for a shift, feel free to give them a whirl and see if they work for you too.

My Last Ditch Attempts at Balance and Sanity  

  1. Meditation. It might seem unconnected, but so much of my absentminded scrolling comes from a lack of being present. A few moments throughout the day to stay grounded and concentrate on breathing has shifted my intentionality.
  2. Treating my phone like a landline. When I get home, I plug my phone into the same corner and it stays there. It’s not unreachable, I can get to it when I need to, but no more mindless bathroom sessions or looking up how to poach an egg when I should be falling asleep. I bought an actual alarm clock so I don’t need it next to me at night. Maybe this will keep it from getting lost as well…
  3. Apps with timers are genius. If I’m out in public and I want to check out a recipe on Pinterest or scroll for local events in Portland, I’ve got about five minutes to do it before I’m kicked off and back to reality.
  4. Sit in the dirt and look at the sky. On a walk one day when I was at my most distracted, my daughter asked if we could sit in the dirt and look at the sky. I want to do more of that, so I am challenging myself to be still and look around. I’m working towards waiting in line without depending on a distraction or going on a walk with my own thoughts instead of a podcast every time. 
  5. Enlist the kids for support. I think it’s awesome for our kids to see that we struggle and are striving to improve. When my four-year-old calls me out, it’s a powerful reminder that they are watching and absorbing everything we do.

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