Cell phone and internet addiction has become more prevalent as society’s dependency on tech has exploded. The evolution of handheld gadgets has emphasized newer, smarter and more streamlined models boasting the latest and greatest functions that entice consumers to upgrade for the sake of having the best and most advanced capabilities. Now, there is an app for almost any need and desire. Ordering food, budgeting, health goals, shopping, chatting…it’s all on the phone, tablet or maybe even our watch.

The convenience and advancement of technology, though, also pushed the need for users to carry a gadget everywhere. Even life’s simplest moments became tethered to tech. Younger generations have grown up knowing the benefits of technology, and, as they age and mature, so do their devices. Today’s teens and young adults likely don’t recall a day without the internet or their cell phone. And now, life moves at the speed of digital.

But the technology that helps to simplify life and communication also has perhaps given way to dependency. That phone is always on, and many of us are constantly checking our device for updates, texts and the latest news. There is no escape from the wired world and are so dependent that going without the cell phone leads to something called “nomophobia”—or ‘no mobile phone phobia.’ Yes, it’s real.

According to Common Sense Media, more than half of teens felt that they had a cell phone addiction. However, adults also feel a pull towards their phones. So how do you know if the convenience of the device has morphed into a full-on dependency and addiction? According to Reader’s Digest, there are 21 signs that may point to a problem.

For families and individuals, taking steps to reduce gadget time could help curtail the spiral into dependency. If you think that phone or screen addiction is becoming a problem, here’s how to exorcise the digital demon.

Create a Cell Phone Contract

This type of cell phone contract has nothing to do with a mobile carrier. A cell phone contract within the family should outline the responsibilities and rules of cell phone use and ownership. Include time limits for the phone and boundaries that dictate when the phone can and cannot be used (e.g. during drive-time, at the dinner table, etc.). Many contracts include a lights-out rule, or a phone bedtime. According to an article in Harvard Health Letter, the blue light emitted from screens can affect sleep as it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. So putting the phone to bed a few hours before you hit the sack is a smart idea.

Be a Positive Role Model

Parents who check their phones all the time model the behavior for teens and younger kids. If limiting phone and screen use is important, then limit your own use. Put down the phone during family time, don’t spend hours surfing the internet at your kids’ events and set time limits on updating social media. Show your kids that a healthy lifestyle includes limitations on technology and screen time. Instead of pulling out that gadget, take the kids for a walk or play a board game. Focus on face-to-face socialization and communication beyond technology.

Set Time Limits on Your Phones

Many phones offer parental controls and ways to set time limits for use. This allows parents to control their children’s phone time and their own. So if you don’t think you have the self-control to monitor your own use, let the phone do it for you!Cell Phone on Lockdown

Phone Prison

Parents with kids remember a time when the whole house was baby-proofed. This meant locked cabinets and drawers, cushiony pads on table corners and outlet plugs everywhere. Safety was important. If kids or teens cannot limit their screen time even with a cell phone contract or other restrictions, then introduce a phone prison. You can buy lock boxes that can be set with a pass code; typically, this is a numeric code set with a dial of some sort.

Yes, this solution is extreme. And probably should only be utilized in extreme cases. But if teens cannot put the phone to bed at night or can’t be trusted with the tech, then the phone might need a vacation in a locked place.

Get Outdoors

Everyone needs physical activity. Kids should have an hour of physical activity each day. If kids are in sports, then they probably are meeting that guideline. However, if you or your kids don’t go out much and spend hours staring at a screen, then it’s time to set outdoor goals.

If you don’t exercise or enjoy working out, don’t fret. Getting active can be fun, and you can do something that everyone enjoys. Go for a hike on a paved path at a nearby park, have a family dance-off, take a bike ride (remember the helmets!) or just walk around your neighborhood. No matter what activity you plan, get the entire group together and block out an hour for fitness.

Set Priorities and Use Screen Time as a Reward

Some families also set screen limits based on other responsibilities. Create a checklist of all the important tasks you or your kids need to do before anyone can hop online or enjoy screen time. For kids, homework, reading and chores should come first. Adults also should create their own list of must-do tasks. Remember, adults set the example. So if you don’t want kids vegging out with the screen before completing their checklist, then parents also need to set priorities.

Emphasize Face-to-Face and Real Experiences Instead of Cyber Reality

Devices emphasize instant communication and allow users access to almost any piece of information. Life is literally at our fingertips. But the screen cannot take the place of real face-to-face communication or even the printed word (in book or other form). Focus on engaging teens in real life situations. Encourage them to meet up with friends instead of texting or chatting via apps. And while some kids or teens like reading books via an e-reader format, nothing really beats the real physical experience of reading a—literal—page-turning book.

Talk about Screen Addiction

Sometimes kids and teens don’t understand how something so fun—and convenient—can be harmful. Research screen addiction and gather the statistics. Talk to kids about why it’s important to set boundaries and limitations on screen time. Use the discussion to help them understand how relying on digital devices may create a dependency or may even limit their face-to-face interactions. Help them understand why they shouldn’t always be hooked to their phone or device. And that, yes, it’s ok to miss a text or update especially if it means that they are enjoying another activity instead.

Screen and cell phone addiction has become a concern as society’s emphasis on never missing a moment leads many of us to be constantly checking the phone for an update, a message or an alert. But life isn’t about digital relationships; instead, we need real ones. That means parents need to take control of the screen, instead of letting the screen hold all the control. Create a cell phone contract that outlines use responsibilities and restrictions. But also set a good example for kids; parents shouldn’t spend all day on their phones or staring at screens and then set other demands for kids. Talk openly about screen addiction and then plan on how you plan to control it. Even if that means sending the phone to ‘jail’ for a short sentence.

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