How I Beat My Smartphone Addiction

Four dads talk about when they realized they needed a boundary between their smartphones and their lives and what they did to make sure it happened. 

This past March, a new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that phone snubbing — or phubbing — the act of ignoring your partner for a text, tweet, snap, ‘gram, or anything else on your digital device, creates relationship dissatisfaction on an almost-subconscious level. Why? Because it creates emotional distance between romantic partners.

This study added to the growing pile of evidence that suggests that, when relied on too heavily, smartphones are sleep-sucking, relationship-fracturing, brain-ruiners. Among this is also the evidence that parents who overuse smartphones run the risk of putting their children at odds with them. A study in Child Development, for instance, shows that young kids and phones are competing for parental attention.

It’s easy to become over reliant on your phone. But how do you know when you’re using it too much — and, when you do realize that it’s infringing on your relationships, what can you do? Here, four dads talk about when they realized they needed a boundary between their smartphones and their lives and what measures they took to make sure it happened.

“My brain became so conditioned to the vibration of a phone it was making them up.”

I remember walking along the beach and feeling my phone vibrate in my pocket, trying to stay in the moment with my family I ignored it, over the space of 10 minutes it happened a few more times. Each time a buzz, I had to stop myself from reaching to get it and see the “urgent” message I must be getting on a Sunday morning. After 20 minutes I gave in and had to look, and that was then I realized there was a problem because I didn’t have my phone with me, I had left it in the car and all those buzzes weren’t real, my brain had become so conditioned to a buzz/vibrate of a phone it was making them up.

From then on, I turned off notifications. Most of the day, my phone is in “do not disturb” mode and when I get home from work I put my phone on charge in the kitchen and try to leave it there until the kids are in bed. There are always times when I relapse, in the queue of Starbucks or on the train, scrolling through nonsense but being aware my behavior means I find myself more walking down the street without my head staring at my phone and now see the people walking by me with their heads down starring on their phones. We all need to take some time away from our screens. — Lee Mallon, Father of two , United Kingdom

“I was shocked at how much time I spent on my phone.”

We have an 18-month old. One day, I was doing laundry. I picked up my phone because there was a notification. I was sitting there, it seemed like, just a couple of seconds, on my phone. And then I heard my son kind of out of the doorway say, “Daddy.” And I looked over at home and acknowledged him and he seemed like that was good. I continued to scroll through my phone and then I heard him do something that I had not heard him do before – which was scream. Like a, “Hey dude, pay attention to me,” scream. He had dragged toilet paper all the way from our guest bathroom into our master bedroom, the span of 100 feet.

I didn’t think that much time had passed. I started being more mindful of the time I spent on my phone. I tracked down this “Moments” app. The first day I did it, I was shocked at how much time I spent on my phone, because I was already being mindful at that point. I benchmarked it and tried to improve, and the best I could do was probably between 35 and 45 minutes a day. I was thinking, oh, this is just me calling and texting, how harmless is that? When I looked at the actual metrics, most of my engagement on my phone is on my apps. I’m a digital marketer. I spend almost all of my day online. When you factor in those eight hours, that’s like, a lot of time.

I ended up getting a talk-text phone. I don’t text even a fraction as much as I used to. I’m definitely actively calling people more, because it’s more convenient. That’s enhanced my relationship even with my wife. We get to talk more on the phone. Which doesn’t seem like something that people do very often anymore. — Zach Short, Father of one, Nebraska

“I realized being connected to my phone at all times was not helping me professionally.”

I’m a workaholic. At some point, I realized being connected to my phone at all times was not helping me professionally. I decided to try to disconnect, just got a couple of hours. I would turn my phone off on Friday night right before I went to bed and then I’d try to make it to noon on Saturday. After a couple of weeks, I made it to a whole day.

What was difficult was the idea, the proverbial fear of missing out on the important phone call, email, text message. It’s so strong. Once you do it and you dive in, even for a small little bit of time, a Saturday or Sunday morning, at first, it’s almost like you’re a drug addict. But once you start doing it on a regular basis, it’s actually incredibly easy to do. — Aaron Edelheit, Father of Three, California

“My wife said to me: ‘When you’re here, you should be here.'”

I made a point to leave the office every day at 5, but then I’d be sitting there and holding my phone, checking it. It got to the point where my wife said a few things to me like, “When you’re here, you should be here.” I probably blew her off. But it finally hit me: What am I doing here? A simple hour is not going to be the end of the world for me not to check my email. I think we think things are more important than they really are. If you don’t respond to somebody in an hour, the world is not going to end. At some point

Over the last 4 or 5 years, there’s been a lot of changes. I don’t know if I’m just getting older, or what, but I’m looking at things through a different light. I’ll only be young once. So I took a lot of different steps not to be glued to my phone as much as I used to be.

I don’t ever take my phone to bed anymore. I charge it in the kitchen. That way, I’m not looking on Twitter while I’m trying to go to sleep, I’m not getting up in the middle of the night feeling like I gotta check my phone. I don’t use it for a half hour before I go to sleep.

I always get up and make my kids breakfast. I learned not to check my phone until my wife takes them to school at 7:30. I don’t want to be thinking about the emails I got overnight. When I’m done working, I just put my phone in a different room. I try to get out of the habit of even having it in my pocket. I try to stay away from that as much as I can. — Bill Fish, Father of Three, Ohio