Worried About Your Smartphone Use? These Tips Can Help

By Kelly Burch 06/22/18

A few health experts offer some useful suggestions for limiting screen time and reconnecting with the world outside of your phone.

Teenage girl using a smartphone while laying in bed

Smartphones undoubtedly make our lives easier. After all, we can now do our banking, grocery shopping and trip planning all from the comfort of our homes with a few taps. 

However, smartphones are increasingly in the news for their negative side effects, and smartphone addiction is becoming a more common issue. In some cases, smartphone use has been tied to serious health consequences. 

Last year, researchers found that more teen girls were coming into the emergency room for self-inflicted injuries, and they speculated that smartphones might be to blame. 

“It is unclear why the rate of self-injury among younger teens has climbed,” the Washington Post reports, “though some experts say it could be because of the girls' access to smartphones and Internet bullying.”

Smartphone use has also been linked to changes in teens’ brains and an increased risk in mental health problems and suicidal ideation for those who spend hours each day clicking away. 

However, there are ways to curtail your smartphone use if you’re becoming concerned about how it’s affecting your health or relationships. 

One simple step that can be surprisingly hard to initiate is charging your phone in another room, where it’s less convenient to access, said Julie Albright, a psychology lecturer at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and author of the book Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives are Reshaping the American Dream.

Taking a break from the screen can allow you to recharge as well, she told Medical Xpress

"This is a way to reconnect with body, mind and self and not be in a constant state of overstimulation of the mind," Albright said. "We all need that quiet time to be able to think again and refocus.”

She also suggests putting all phones away during meal times. 

"Keeping them out of sight during family dinners lets you focus on the people around you and be present," she said.

Steven Sussman, professor of preventive medicine, psychology and social work, suggests setting up a schedule for checking your phone. Begin with once every 15 minutes, and gradually increase the waiting periods, resisting the urge to justify an early check-in by claiming you “need” to do something. 

“Now we can do so much online—a lot of our daily lives are on our phone,” he said. 

Although we do a lot online, we also waste lots of time mindlessly swiping through our phones, says Allen Weiss, director of the Mindful USC initiative and a professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business. He challenges students to think about why they’re compelled to check their phones: are they bored, feeling needy, etc?

"Since mindfulness helps people process these emotions, I wanted [my students] to fully experience the sense of these emotions and see how they arise and pass away," Weiss said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.