Your Cell Phone Is Ruining Your Life

Today I’d like to talk about cell phones and how our addiction to them affects our interactions with our children. It’s a bit of a departure from talking about clothes, but I think it’s worth discussing. And since it’s regarding being a better father, it’s fair game.

Much has been said about the effects of cell phones on our brains and how, based on their functionality, we literally become addicted to them. But I never fully grasped that concept until I did a little experiment. Over the course of three weeks, I aimed to reduce my phone screen time as much as possible and see what positive effects it had. The results, which you will see in a moment, were striking.

I bought my first iPhone in early 2012. My wife got hers first and I was debating whether or not I wanted one, too. I had a simple flip-phone at the time and never felt the need to check my email or be on the internet when I wasn’t literally sitting in front of a regular computer. I remember thinking, “Why do I need this? I’ll probably never use it.” Fast forward almost ten years and I am in the same boat as everyone else: a slave to the little beast.

It was realizing this drastic change in behavior that got me thinking about how my phone impacts my day-to-day activities. I then became hyper-aware of when I was using it. Whenever I had any down time or experienced any boredom I felt the twinge to pull it out of my pocket and check it. Check what? I don’t know… just check it!

It felt like how my parents always described smoking, or, more specifically, quitting smoking. My mom would say, “How can I talk on the phone without a cigarette? How can I drink a cup of coffee without a cigarette? How can I wait for a bus without a cigarette?” It feels the same way with a cell phone… “How can I wait online at Starbucks without my phone? How can I wait for my car repairs to be done without my phone? How can I go to the men’s room without my phone?!” The thought of being without one’s phone is terrifying for some.

I determined that my phone was like the One Ring from The Lord Of The Rings. Sitting in my pocket, calling to me. Waiting for a moment of weakness. Preying on my anxiety. I know I should leave it alone but just once wouldn’t be so bad, right? RIGHT?!

In all seriousness, my phone felt like a handbrake on my life. Whenever I took it out and looked at it for any reason I was yanking on that handbrake and any progress I had been making came to a screeching halt.

This was when I decided to conduct my little experiment. The first week was my control where I recorded what a “normal” week was for me in terms of average phone screen time per day (for the entire week) and then my lowest one day total. Happily, I came up with this idea on a Saturday, so I already had a full week of honest data for my control. The following two weeks would be my test weeks where I would consciously try to lower those two metrics. Here are the results:

Week 1 (Control) – 3 hours and 1 minute (avg daily usage) / 42 minutes (lowest single day total)

Week 2 (Test) – 1 hour and 39 minutes / 6 minutes

Week 3 (Test) – 58 minutes / 3 minutes

As you can see, I was able to cut my average daily screen time practically in half with each test week. As the end of the experiment I was essentially gaining two hours a day, which is pretty remarkable. I don’t know of any dad/parent/individual who wouldn’t want an extra two hours in their day.

And want to know something else amazing? It wasn’t that difficult. As the days went on, ignoring my phone’s siren song became easier and easier. The less I checked the news, email, social media, weather, the less important those things seemed. I would think “I don’t actually need this or care about this, so I am not going to bother.” The MORE I slipped and checked those things, the more important that frivolous junk seemed and the more it mattered to me.

When I started this experiment I wanted to simply be more intentional with my phone usage. If I was expecting an email or needed to check the hours of the pharmacy or something, then that was fine, I reasoned. Even checking the news seemed ok as long as I was looking for something specific (what the president said in his address the night prior, for example). But what I quickly discovered was that very little of even my “intentional” usage was necessary. Did I NEED to check the weather multiple times a day? Of course not. I only needed to check it once in the morning to see if I needed an umbrella later. That’s it. Here are some other revelations from my experiment…

I Had More Time To Let My Mind Wander – I used to pull out my phone as soon as I felt even slightly disengaged from my task at hand. Work file taking an extra minute to load? Out comes the phone. Son is watching the last few minutes of Xavier Riddle? Out comes the phone.

When I stopped checking my phone I was daydreaming more, thinking more deeply about things, and being more engaged with what was happening right in front of me. And this had a real positive impact on my parenting. At one point my son was quietly eating a snack at the dining room table with me next to him. I searched for a second for something interesting to say to him. I landed on a painting on the wall (a colorful, mostly yellow, abstract piece my aunt painted) and asked him what he thought it looked like. He thought for a moment so I said I thought it looked like flowers. He said, “Daddy, I think it’s a camel.”

Alright, then.

This never would have happened had I been lost in phone-land. I found myself working harder to engage my kids and think about what would be beneficial to talk about.

I was being a better dad.

Reading More – In the “Before Times” (before the pandemic) I had a LONG commute into NYC. Part of that commute consisted of an hour-long train ride and I usually used that time to read. Since working from home, I felt I didn’t “have the time” to read much anymore. I was kidding myself. I had the time. I was just pouring that time into my cell phone.

During my experiment, I was reading more. Reading more meant I had more interesting things to talk about with my wife. Also, since I was reading more, my kids SAW me reading more. My nose was buried in a book instead of a phone and seeing that is far more valuable for their development.

Again, I was being a better dad.

More Productive At Work – Not checking my phone four trillion time a day allowed me to get much more work done. But the QUALITY of my work improved, as well because I wasn’t constantly distracting myself (and yanking that handbrake!). I was able to actually drill down mentally, push through whatever boredom I happened to feel, and be more engaged with my work.

I also enjoyed my work more. These improvements made me feel much more satisfied at the end of the day. The satisfaction led to me feeling more positive, more confident, and less anxious when spending time with my family. I was more present and more engaged with them because I wasn’t worried about work.

Again… being a better dad. I hope you are noticing a theme.

I Went From Feeling Harried And Like I Had No Time For Anything To Feeling Like I Had A Handle On Things – How incredible is that? Wouldn’t we all like to feel that way all the time? There literally was not one single downside to severely limiting my phone usage.

But want to know the scary thing? I didn’t sustain it. Once my experiment was over and I recorded all the wonderful effects I went right back to my old habits. I always wondered why my mom went back to smoking after she quit when she was pregnant with my sister. Now I know (not that quitting smoking is the same as limiting screen time, but you get my drift). That’s what’s so insidious. Phones are so entwined with our lives that it feels almost impossible to quit them. But the benefits for us and our families are staring us in the face. If only we can put the phone down long enough to see them.

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