Whether we are a student, parent, or educator it’s fair to say that we’ve seen a big media influence on our society. Smartphones bring the convenience of having everything at our fingertips. However, along with ease of communication and information, we have a constant barrage of choices about what we will look at and for how long. We can easily spend the majority of our time focusing on our screens, while ignoring people around us or the activities we once enjoyed. Here are a few suggestions to help us avoid the addiction of being glued to our devices.
One strategy could be to commit to doing important activities (homework, chores, spending time with friends and family, etc.) BEFORE we pick up our devices. Maybe this means keeping our electronics in the other room away from us, like not having any phones at the table during meals.
Most of the students I talk to keep their phones with them all night and are tempted to pull all-nighters to keep on top of the social scene. Though some young people may not believe that sleep is an essential activity, our brain and body require sleep to grow. So a plan of not having your phone in your bedroom at night can protect that needed rest time. If you must keep your phone with you for an alarm, put it on airplane mode and set a boundary with your friends that you will get back to them when it’s convenient for you.
Maybe changing some settings on your phone could make you less likely to be drawn to it, like turning off notifications on your social media, or adjusting the volume to off. Excessive distractions and over multitasking can become a habit pattern that can actually affect our ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. If you can’t concentrate it makes it harder to learn. Our brains may crave the constant flow of dopamine that is stimulated by constant interactions with people, information, and visual/audio graphics. Science is discovering that our brains are affected by addictive media behaviors, so finding ways to set limits is crucial.
One of the downfalls of media is our tendency to compare ourselves with others. People tend to only share their happy moments on social media, which creates an illusion that their life is perfect, or at least better than ours. This may be part of why depression is on the rise in our society: because we feel left out and less than others.
To avoid this trap, we may need to limit our time viewing social media posts. In some cases, we may need to hide certain people’s posts until we can be happy for that person without feeling a sense of jealousy. Whether we are measuring our appearance by others, or sizing up our activities as boring in comparison, unplugging can provide a circuit breaker before we burn out. Another way to unplug is to take a day or two off a week to focus on more important and fulfilling parts of life.
To aid us in monitoring our time online, iPhone has made it easy to view time spent through “Screen Time” in Settings. Android has an app called Digital Wellbeing that can keep track of all the time we spend on different apps. Both of these options allow time limits and notifications for specific apps. There are also Parental Controls to provide limits to what children are allowed to view online.
Let’s face it, some media is just plain sexually enticing, and can easily become addictive to the point where we lose our desire to do anything else. If you think this is becoming a problem for you, try to quit it for a couple weeks and see how much of a hold it has on you. After that time, if you are still struggling, get help from a trusted person in your life. There are also resources online that can help too: fightthenewdrug.org has an app called Fortify that can help you quit porn, or start.covenanteyes.com is another website that can help create accountability. You shouldn’t feel bad about reaching out to others. This is a hard habit to break alone, and one that many people struggle with.
Finally, those of us who are adults can model what it looks like to have boundaries with the time we spend on media. When our young people want to talk, we should focus on giving them eye contact and setting aside our devices. When it’s necessary for us to work or be online, we should communicate that clearly and give them a brief time limit when we will be available. From this, they will learn how to communicate their needs and desires clearly while also seeing their need to set their own limits to prioritize important face to face relationships.
No doubt, this age of media connectivity has become a balancing act that we all need tools to deal with. These are just a few ideas that I got from others, so share any other good ideas you have that can help us avoid media addiction.