It is no news flash that the amount of time children and teens today spend in front of screens far surpasses that of previous generations. In fact, a variety of research and public polling proves that upwards of 50% of young people suffer from what is called a ‘phone addiction.’ According to a poll conducted by the Boston Globe, teens age 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours a day behind some type of screen. If you assume 8 hours of sleep, that is almost 60% of the day spent on electronics!
Although the internet is strewn with articles on ‘breaking the phone addiction’ and ‘ways to put away the screens,’ more often than not, they consist exclusively of the overused and perpetually ignored suggestions to put away electronics an hour before bed or take a break from social media. Thus, in this article, I hope to introduce a few – more simple, subtle, and nontraditional – ways to reduce screen time and consequently begin to break dependency on electronics.
- Talk, don’t text.
Texting is easy. I get that. But the problem is that it is practically impossible to have a truly substantive conversation at the rate it takes to type out entire responses. Furthermore, texts both lack emotion and can be so carefully crafted and edited that they don’t reflect the original raw response. So, when you have something you want to talk to a friend or a parent about, instead of texting them, simply pick up the phone and call them. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but I promise that you can accomplish more in a five-minute phone call than in 50 minutes of texting. Try to reserve texting for things that don’t require a real conversation such as planning logistics or single-response questions. In fact, I often will respond to texts with a call in order to avoid the tireless back and forth of having the entire conversation confined in little speech bubbles.
- Get off the treadmill and go outside.
When I go to the gym, I find that I often prop up my phone or iPad on the machine and turn on Netflix. However, when walking or running outside, this isn’t an option. So, instead of letting yourself fall in that Netflix trap, get outside in the fresh air, put in your headphones, and take that time to absorb the world around you instead of the screen in front of you.
- Listen to books-on-tape.
After a long day of school or work, I am so exhausted that the easiest thing to do is pull up my computer and start watching TV. I don’t pick up a book because I find them too much effort to get into and too much work to read. However, I recently decided to take my mother’s suggestion of listening to a book-on-tape in my car while driving and I have actually found it life changing. Here’s why. If you are anything like me and spend hours a day confined to your car with your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, you probably find your mind searching for something to do. Filling this dead time by listening to books-on-tape not only saves me from the boredom of driving but also gets me excited about reading. I am already into the book and look forward to listening so much that I will often pick up the actual book when I am out of the car. This easy way to read more might get you off your screens at night to finish that exciting book and will definitely stimulate your mind in a time otherwise wasted.
- Make a phone pile.
A few months ago I was at a cast-run rehearsal for a show I was in. Because the director wasn’t there to monitor, within the first few minutes almost everyone was on his or her phone completely ignoring the task at hand. To reconcile this, I decided to start a phone pile. I pulled over a stool, told everyone to put his or her phone on it and pushed it into the corner. Whenever someone tried to go over to it, everyone else was responsible for stopping him or her. Of course it doesn’t make sense to force phone piles at every social event, but there are certain times when it can be an effective tool to enhance everyone’s focus on the people or situation at hand. Maybe try it at a family dinner or a birthday party. How about a study group or a team meal?
- Pick one class to take notes by hand.
If you go to a school that allows computers in the classroom, you likely always have it up. Sure, a lot of the time you are taking notes and looking at PowerPoints, but I think it is fair to say that you spend at least a little bit of time messaging friends or scrolling through Buzzfeed. Consider picking just one class in which you keep your computer in your bag and take notes by hand. You very well might find that you pick up a lot more of the material and thus save yourself a lot of studying time later on. Also, although you can’t write at quite the same speed you can type, you will probably find that learning how to take notes concisely and weed out superfluous information will streamline your test preparation. Who knows, maybe you will want to keep your computer shut in all you classes.
- Sit in the kitchen.
I my household, I have found that the most central location is definitely the kitchen. Not only is it literally in the middle of the house, but also the general love for food in my family causes people to gravitate there. Sometimes, if I am bored and have been spending too much time in front of a screen, I will simply park it at the kitchen table. Before I know it, someone else, who came in looking for a snack or a glass of water, is sitting with me having a conversation. If you are there people will want to join you. However, if you barge into their room in the middle of their TV show, they might be less willing. So, take an hour out of your evening to just sit in the kitchen – or whatever room is most central in your home – and see what happens. I bet you will be surprised.
- People watch.
While waiting in that long Starbucks line or sitting on public transportation, you probably convulsively pull out your phone. Instead, try simply sitting and watching the world around you. It is often in these situations that you can observe some of the most interesting people. Think abut all the drama and curious incidents you might be missing if you’ve got your nose stuck behind your cell phone.