Feeling addicted to your phone? You're not alone

Parenting Place device use

It's quite typical for families to find that device use has creeps up more than usual in the school holidays. It's also easy for holiday habits to become the new norm. When the screen time balance is off for too long, the impacts on all of us are obvious, and as it turns out, it’s a theme that is pretty common around Aotearoa at present.

Recently, the annual nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey, which canvasses the issues and concerns of parents around NZ, released more research results showing what parents are struggling with the most.

The biggest concern parents and caregivers have is around their kids’ tech use. 70% of parents are concerned about this, with 24% revealing they are ‘extremely concerned’. However, two thirds (66%) of us admit we rely on technology as a distraction for children. Easy baby-sitter, right?

Are we addicted?

What is interesting about this research is that parents admitted lacking discipline when it comes to their own screen time and their inability to model healthy device use. In fact, a whopping 50% of the parents surveyed said they themselves felt addicted to their devices.

I’m sure many of us can relate to the ever-increasing presence of screens in our own lives, as well as in the day-to-day activities of our kids. We are living and parenting in the thick of a digital era. We feel this constant push and pull as we navigate our way through a tech-heavy world, while trying to maintain balance for our families.

Studies show that we check our phones at least every 15 minutes. Studies also show that increased screen time increases anxiety and depression, resulting in poor mental health outcomes.

What's really happening?

Studies show that we check our phones at least every 15 minutes; studies also show that increased screen time increases anxiety and depression, resulting in poor mental health outcomes.

The routine goes something like this. We wake up and check our phone. Put the jug on and get dressed, check something on our phone. Make the kids lunches while they get dressed and brush teeth. Check phone. Jump in the car and before we start the engine, check our phone. It could be messages, the news, Facebook, Spotify, traffic route, our emails. Whatever it is, it's a lot of constant checking.

Why less screen time matters

As parents and caregivers, staying connected with our kids is key to strong, healthy family relationships, and ensuring we are the people they come to when they need to talk.

There are some great things about technology – for example, it offers us ways to check-in with our kids throughout the day that generations before us didn’t have. But when tech takes more of our attention than it should, it can get in the way of genuine connection and relationship building.

I’m sure you won't be surprised to hear that research shows parents and caregivers play a powerful role in influencing kids' screen time and tech use. So that habit of checking our phone every 15 minutes (at least, let’s be honest) is being noticed and learnt as normal behaviour. And then it is mimicked.

I’m not saying we have to get this perfect – we can't and we won't. Being aware of what we are doing and having a go at shifting some of our habits is all it takes to help model a better way. Using our phones less, even one hour less a day, offers significant and proven impacts on mental health and anxiety levels.

Being aware of what we are doing and having a go at shifting some of our habits is all it takes to help to model a better way.

My digital detox

Last year I experienced this first-hand. I work in the freelance media space and realised the pull to 'check' my phone had got out of whack. In a typical work day (actually, a typical every day!) I am constantly on and reachable; the combination of working from home and the demands of pandemic parenting, the constant phone calls, messages, notifications, emails and my own obsessive scrolling of news channels during crisis events… it all became too much.

I felt constantly frazzled, distracted and low-level anxious. The crunch came when I realised that my mind was so noisy and distracted, when the kids spoke to me I felt irritated. I couldn’t focus on anything. There was too much noise, too many tabs open, my mind was in overdrive.

There was too much noise, too many tabs open, my mind was in overdrive.

I knew I needed a change. I went through a ruthless elimination process - kind of like those Bachelor TV shows where you have to cut or keep. Whatever wasn't feeding my soul, it was deleted.

For me, the results were pretty immediate. I quickly realised I had nothing interesting to check on my phone and I became more present in the moment. I was able to focus more on the tasks at hand and the people I was with.

When I was really honest, I also realised that I had, at times, used the endless distractions on my phone to avoid some tough feelings, which research shows is increasingly common. The digital detox was a great call for restoring calm, and I enjoyed it so much so that I haven't reinstated many of the apps and sites that I blocked. Long may it last!

Here are a few tips for cutting back on your screen time:

  • Delete as many apps as you can. Think Marie Kondo and be ruthless. If it doesn't bring you joy, delete it.
  • In your settings, block the websites you have a tendency to check too regularly. For me it was news sites – endless doom scrolling on my phone wasn't good for my headspace so I blocked them.
  • If you can, delete work emails from your phone. If you are working throughout the day and checking your emails on your computer, isn't that enough?
  • In settings, turn off notifications to any apps you don't need to receive alerts from. It's all just adding to the noise.
  • I deleted all the social media apps that I had a tendency to “just quickly check” before bed, before losing an hour as I wandered down a rabbit warren of randomness. I have kept Messenger and WhatsApp for chats.
  • When you want to be more present, leave your phone in another room. I find using Do Not Disturb mode helpful too.
  • Have a family rule of no devices at mealtimes (keep them away from the table, leaving them on a shelf or in the lounge etc).
  • If you want to go hard, go grayscale. Switching your phone screen from colour to grey makes it much less attractive. (This option will be somewhere in settings/accessibility.)
  • Find a hobby – you’re going to have a lot of spare time on your hands.
Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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