I Have Strict Screen Time Limits For My Kids, But I'm Addicted To My Phone

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty

Confession. My cell phone use is out of control, and I’m a total hypocrite.

Here’s a typical scenario. I’m in the kitchen leaning over the countertop, my cell phone in my hands. One of my four kids says to me, “Mom?” Without looking up, I mumble, “Just a minute.” The child stands beside me, waiting as patiently as possible, then says again, “Mom?”

I whirl around, annoyed by the interruption, and sharply reply, “What?” She says, “I drew you a picture” and thrusts a piece of paper toward me, a wavering smile on her face.

Immediately, I’m filled with guilt and regret. Again. My cell phone use is a vicious cycle, one I’m incredibly embarrassed about.

I’m such a hypocrite, and I know it. Kids, do what I say and not what I do. Or something like that.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I’m that mom who seriously limits her kids’ electronics time. Each of my four children has an ancient iPad that they are allowed to play for two hours on Friday afternoons. They don’t have televisions in their bedrooms. We purchased a used Xbox several years ago that is glaringly uncool and outdated. My tween doesn’t have a cell phone.

I’m terrified of my kids’ having access to technology, because I know how addicting it can be. And I want them to live their best lives, which I know doesn’t include being glued to a screen. Except here I am, glued to my own phone’s screen.

I’ve tried to make changes. Really, I have.

I would have one of those aha moments and decide to take charge. For a time period, I would swear off using my phone on evenings and weekends. I moved my social media apps to the last screen, so I wouldn’t be tempted to tap on them every time I glanced at my phone.

I’ve shut off all notifications and deleted many apps. Last spring, I successfully gave up social media for 30 days. I even use an old school paper planner to keep track of appointments and lists instead of a calendar app.

Rich Soul/Unsplash

Last July, a friend of mine had dropped her son off practice and was driving away from the facility when an intoxicated driver hit her. She died a few hours later. Investigators found that the driver was using his phone at the time of the accident.

Maybe my friend would have died regardless of the driver using his cell phone. But then again, maybe not. Maybe she would still be here, caring for her son.

What I know is, we are all so damn tied to our phones, with terrible cases of FOMO, that we actually end up creating the very thing we fear. A life of missing out.

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Macy Stafford shares in her book Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More, that she had increasingly become distracted and consumed by “the fleeting, superficial, and meaningless distractions.” Though she appeared to have everything someone could ever want, she admits she was “the farthest I’d ever been from the life I yearned to live.”

She made the drastic, counter-cultural proclamation that enough was enough. She was physically ill, constantly stressed, and never truly happy because she was choosing distraction over presence. Through a series of decisions and dedication, which she outlines in her books, she reconnected with herself and her family.

I read Rachel’s book, my copy dog-eared with passages heavily underlined. Then I tucked it on a shelf, considering myself better, stronger, and of course, more present.

But it didn’t last. Not because Rachel isn’t a fantastic author and motivator, but because I retreated to my phone as a coping skill to avoid chaos and anxiety. My cell phone is my immediate relief and escape from spills, stacks of dishes, and arguing children. I tell myself, it’s just for five minutes, but it’s never just five minutes.

You know how it goes. You might have simply been reading a trending political story when somehow you end up in an argument with NaturalMama463 over vaccinations.

You type your brilliant point, hit post, and then scroll only to spot an ad for an adorable maxi dress. It’s the deal-of-the-day! After browsing the color and sizing options and adding a few to your cart (because hey, they are returnable), you realize you need a pair of sandals to match.

And just like that, it’s forty-five minutes later.

Like me, you’ve probably seen stats and studies. Phone usage is causing us to be more anxious. Cell phones may pose cancer risks. My chiropractor told me she works with patients every day who have neck, shoulder, and wrist problems, all because of device usage.

Also like me, you might think about the fact that these things are pressing problems, but our desire to be artificially connected is more powerful. The truth is, my hand feels empty and unbalanced when my cell phone isn’t resting in it.

I make constant excuses as to why I need to check my phone. How will I know what the air quality is that day for the sake of my child’s allergies and asthma? If I check the weather, I’ll know if our 3:00 pool plans will work out or not. Did my cousin get the job she interviewed for? When will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry post a pic of Baby Archie?

The real question I should be asking is, do my kids know the color of my eyes? They’re so used to seeing the back of my head. Do I hug them often enough, or will they simply remember my fingers, swiping, scrolling, and pecking at letters?

I get so angry with myself that I want to chuck all of our devices out the window and live a hippie life where we raise chickens, play barefoot in streams, and then end the day by catching fireflies and roasting marshmallows over a fire.

But we live in the real world, and technology is here to stay. And I know we need to find a way to strike a balance that is founded upon healthy boundaries. Yet, how can I teach my children healthy boundaries when I don’t have them myself? Every time I’ve tried to rein myself in, I have failed.

I know that my rules and words mean very little to my children when they can see with their own eyes what I’m modeling and prioritizing. I also don’t want to waste my life watching others’ lives on my screen. I want to watch and engage with my children, in real time, and teach them to do the same.

I keep reminding myself how it feels when I’m not on my phone. I’m happier and more patient. It’s a high, like when you step outside after another long winter is finally over, and you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. It’s invigorating and hopeful.

I wish I could offer the perfect solution to this ongoing battle, but I can’t. All I know is we have to keep trying, even if we fail again.

Our families deserve it. And we do, too.

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