3 Ways to fight phone addiction - The SLP way

The screen in our pocket is a window to the universe. We are integrated in ways that were never imaginable, perhaps too much so. We get our culture, our news, and our personal connections from a screen that fits in our pocket… if we ever put it back in there. It can be our greatest teacher or a factory of endless distractions.  

You don’t have to be a Speech-Language Pathologist to understand the empirical benefit of sincere and sustained interactions. If we understand communication as a basic human right, then the quality of our interactions determines our perceptions of the world.  

According to an Asurion survey of 2000 adults (2017) We check our phones over 80 times a day on an average of once every 12 minutes. 1 out of 10 people check their phones once every 4 minutes. The total average of daily screen time for most people is 4 and a half hours, which is most likely a conservative estimate, especially for teenagers. This number is increasing every year.

We are addicted to engagement. It is more than being too connected, it is the manipulated fear of missing out that is exploited by social media. We get a dopamine hit from every lit up heart, bell and thumbs up. It is the reason why you impulsively check your phone. The hit you get from being “connected” is really disconnecting you from the present moment.

Our new default state is scrolling with diagonal thumbs and a slouched neck. We have accepted the new baseline of communication. Talking with a phone in your hand decimates any sense of appropriate eye contact, topic maintenance and reciprocity. We are learning now just how pervasive the effects of this are because we have accepted this as normal.

As an SLP, I have seen the first hand effect of what screen time does to the brain, especially the autistic brain.

It should be no surprise that the creators of these applications, the silicon Valley tech gurus, don’t allow their children to use ANY screens. They even go so far as not allowing their nannies to use their phones in front of their children. If that isn’t an indicator of just how damaging these devices are to our brains, I don’t know what is.

Eat that? Hell no, I just grow it. I would never eat that with all the stuff we spray on it.

Eat that? Hell no, I just grow it. I would never eat that with all the stuff we spray on it.

 I am not proud to admit that I used to check my phone incessantly. I would find myself check it after sessions or whenever I had a lull in my time. But what’s worse is that I wasn’t doing anything on my phone. Just scrolling or checking my feeds for updates. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. The scary thing is, nothing made it worth it. There was nothing I actually got from checking my phone that made me feel any better or more accomplished. It just kept feeding the empty feeling. But the most relevant change was when I realized that checking my phone less meant I got more from it.  

 Here are 3 ways to fight screen addiction like an SLP.

1. Assess

As an SLP we cannot plan or treat until we assess the problem. The same is true when managing any problem. What exactly are you using your phone for? Are you scrolling without knowing you are scrolling? Are you directly and indirectly comparing yourself to others? Are you constantly checking your engagements?

Look at your behavior in one hour. It’s not so much what you do, but what you impulsively want to do. Is your phone glued to your hand or can you put it in your drawer and not look at it for at least an hour.

 2. Create goals

Once you know where you are, then you can create goals for yourself. Now you can make SMART(Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Timely) goals so you can manage your usage. Start with the average. Looking at it once every 12 minutes.

If you are checking it every 12 minutes (the average) try getting it to every half hour and then to every hour. But be specific with your intentions. Longer goals work best for me. I now put my phone in my drawer and don’t touch it until lunch time when I am at work. Small tweaks like putting it facedown help too because you are less likely to look at it.

 It would look something like this:

LTG: I will check my social media pages once in the morning for 5 minutes, once at lunch for 10 minutes and spend 15 minutes in the evening scrolling as I please.

STG:   I will check my phone once every 15 minutes, no more than 2x per hour.

STG:  I will check my phone 1x every 30 minutes no more than 2x per hour and only respond to relevant text messages if necessary.

STG:  I will check my phone 1x every 60 minutes and only respond to relevant text messages if necessary.

You want to be as specific as possible. This enables you to be meticulous in tracking your progress. Every variable counts. Remember, just because you get a notification, doesn’t mean you have to respond.

3. Monitor progress

You can adjust your goals based on your progress. In the beginning, I was trying to only look at my phone every half hour. Then I realized how simply impulsive and unimportant it was so I went up to an hour and now I check it before work, during lunch and sometimes, if I have time, before I leave work.

 Remember, the goal is to change your new default operating system. You will notice just how detrimental it is to be so mindlessly connected. Then you will be intrinsically rewarded to continue this behavior. There are times where you get sucked in without noticing. But awareness is key. The more you restrict yourself, the more aware you become and the less you need it.

 I will be following up on this soon with ways to use your phone to make you smarter instead of just allowing you to be distracted.