Finally, someone found an effective way to limit excess screen time


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Photo: Getty Images/Adam Kuylenstierna Eye Em

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by screen time. Even though you probably didn’t actually raise your hand, there’s a good chance that if you’re the proud owner of any kind of digital device, you’ve felt some of its nasty potential effects. (Hi, skin issues, relationship issues, and general happiness issues!) And since many smartphones have enabled a tech-use-monitoring feature, you’d think that we’d all lean into some form of a self-imposed digital detox. But, a lot of us definitely haven’t—and, hey, maybe it would all be for naught anyway.

According to the results of a recently released survey of 1,000 people conducted by Mojo Vision, 54 percent of participants reported that attempting to cut back their reliance on tech use did little to change their long-term habits. Oh, and a third of the respondents said an intent toward moderation either had no effect or ultimately led to a screen-time spike. Well, I think I speak for everyone when I say, OMFG, what the heck is wrong with all of us addicts?

Part of the problem with our smartphone reliance comes from the fact that, well, it’s literally difficult to live your life in 2019 without smartphones and iWhatevers. It is all about balance,” says Goali Saedi Bocci, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of The Social Media Workbook for Teens: Skills to Help You Balance Screen Time, Manage Stress, and Take Charge of Your Life“Life without cell phones and our devices can seem impossible because the reality is that they are really intertwined into every part of our lives. From the alarm that wakes us up in the morning to the app that keeps our grocery list in order, our phones can really be our lifelines. So disconnecting from them can seem impossible at first blush.”

“Life without cell phones and our devices can seem impossible because the reality is that they are really intertwined into every part of our lives. From the alarm that wakes us up in the morning to the app that keeps our grocery list in order, our phones can really be our lifelines. So disconnecting from them can seem impossible at first blush.” —clinical psychologist Goali Saedi Bocci, PhD

That earnest lifeline component of screens is a really big distinction compared to detoxing other potentially problematic things in our lives. For example, even though I had moderate success with Dry January, I felt a bit too happy-hour friendly for my liking come February. Sure part of it’s because when things are verboten like that, they become more appealing once the detox ends. Still, happy hours remain a treat, not a near necessity—or, again, lifeline.

While I can choose to meet friends for coffee or dinner or cocktails, I can’t really choose to not be on my computer or cell phone—and not just because I’ve got some bad FOMO. My entire career revolves around being plugged in: monitoring celebrities on Instagram, composing articles in Google Docs, having email on my phone to chat with colleagues, the works. Rest assured that if I didn’t have to be on Facebook for work, I wouldn’t, but such is my life. And unless you’re truly living off the grid, that’s true for most of us, to at least some extent, for some reason these days. So what’s the solution?

“The key really is to assess your behaviors and then see what is most problematic,” Dr. Bocci says. “For some, they’re obsessed with social media, others they play Words With Friends all day long. Then it’s about taking gradual steps backward. Maybe you don’t use your devices at night, or you delete Instagram and Snapchat off your phone.”

You could also try reimagining your digital minimalism as a re-allocation of time rather than a self-imposed limit. For instance, once Dr. Bocci saw she could spend “30 minutes reading a blog post,” she realized she could better use that time to do yoga or go for a jog or even catch up on reading.

All of that sounds very appealing. And though I couldn’t bear to get rid of Insta, I do know I’m a little too involved in my gaming apps. So, my goal is to look past my collective screen time and zero in on my problem areas…namely that I spent 4 hours and 7 minutes last week playing Covet Fashion and—oh no—3 hours and 22 minutes on Cookie Jam? Good. Lord.

Basically, when it comes to being smart about screen time, look at the parts that are most troubling rather than the sum of all the parts. “Much like quitting any addictive behavior, cold turkey is not for everyone,” Dr. Bocci says.” Ideally we can find a healthy balance with our screen time and devices.”

Yes, ideally indeed. And to that point, I’m definitely going to delete Cookie Jam (…but I’m keeping Covet Fashion another week).

To reduce—not do away with—screen time, try these apps that make selfies feel fun and analog. And if you are up for a full-on digital detox, go on one of these unplugged vacations.

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