How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Your Smartphone

This weekend, I had the bizarre impulse to text my two year old to tell her something. Although it would be an effective way to communicate important updates (“Emma’s mom is picking you up at preschool!”), I clearly don’t want to rush my daughter’s childhood. I know I’ll find myself too soon sitting across from a surly teenager who won’t look up from her Smartphone. Or whatever we call it in 2028.

When my own impulse is to text to communicate, I wonder what it says about me. Am I too dependent on this pocket technology? Have we lost some sense of presence with the people around us? Was it better when our mothers would yell at us from another room to come to the table for dinner? What is the balance here?

How do we have a healthy relationship with our Smartphones? Here are three things to try that might help you find balance with that pinging devil.

1. Don’t begin and end the day scrolling through your newsfeeds.

If the idea is to get a peaceful night’s rest (it is!), then it’s hard to do if the last thing you have in front of your eyes before drifting off is the news of something terrible happening in the world or to your friend. Give yourself permission to rest before you sleep.  

The same is true when you wake up. You don’t need to wake up trying to solve the world’s problems.  Give yourself permission to ease into your day. 

2. Make use of the Do Not Disturb feature.

Maybe one of the most helpful things we can do is utilize that handy feature that silences our phones without actually having to power them down.  I’m quick to use it when, say, I go into the movies, but what’s to stop me from doing the same when I’m reading a book, or having dinner with my husband, or playing with my daughter? It’s a way to communicate to my unconscious that I am, for this set period of time, unavailable to be bothered.

3. Call your friends. They like hearing from you.


Clearly, my impulse these days runs toward texting to communicate to my people, even my two year old who has no possession of a Smartphone. Texting is an efficient way to ask quick questions and say quick hellos, but I’m betting the creators of this handy communication never intended for it to be our sole means of communication. If all we’re doing is texting our family and our friends, we’re missing out on hearing their voice. Every once in awhile, resist the urge to text and instead make a phone call. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s an actual person on the other side of the conversation, not just a text bubble.

So, how about you? Have you ever had the impulse to text your two year old? How do you handle your surly teenagers who won’t put their phones away? What are you tricks for maintaining a healthy relationship with your Smartphone?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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28 thoughts on “How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Your Smartphone

  1. I have been as guilty as anyone of taking texting a bit too far and these are really helpful suggestions – thanks for sharing.

    In addition to putting DND/Airplane Mode to good use, I also like to create some occasional physical separation between myself and my device. Something as simple as keeping my phone in separate room, or tucked away in my bag makes it much easier for me to resist the temptation to send an impulse text or facebook message. It’s helped me stay more focused on the present moment, which has been a boon for both my focus at work, and my quality of life at home!

  2. I believe it is important to have a healthy relationship with your smartphone. Lately, I have tried not to be on my phone as much and rather I decided to get myself a new book that will keep me distracted from going through all the newsfeed in the morning or before I fall asleep, because that is exactly what I was doing before, ever single day. Of course, I still read what is happening in the world, but it is not after I have gone to Facebook or any other social site.
    Advice number 3 is very true – more and more I hear my friends telling me that we should call rather than text, and I love that. My family and most of my friends live in another continent and even with them it is nice to Skype or use other apps to call, this makes me feel like they are not so far at all!
    So YES, I feel like using smartphones less is a great idea and it helps to focus on other things which matter more.

  3. There is an app called screentime. Set daily limits on your childs phone. You can add or take away active time depending on how your child is behaving!! Im thinking about setting limits on my own phone!!!!

  4. There are so many facets to this – limiting my own screen time, not being inconsiderate (e.g. interrupting a face to face conversation because a gadget beeped at me), disengaging from the people next to me, and so on.
    I so appreciate Tim Challies advice to consider the purpose of the device. Cell phones were invented to enable businessmen and women to be available ALL THE TIME. If you don’t want or need to be available all the time, you need to put the limits in place to make that happen. (from his book, The Next Story).

  5. The battery on my older smartphone isn’t that great so I leave mine plugged in – downstairs, where I can’t hear it buzz and beep all night.

    I don’t check the newsfeeds late at night, in fact I try to stay off the phone after my daughter is in bed. If I am on, it’s often to scroll through beautiful Instagram photos – usually fiber (yarn) related. Quite soothing 🙂

  6. Great tips! My phone is set so it does not alert me for emails, only phone calls and texts. I keep it on silent/vibrate so it doesn’t disturb others, and if I am with someone, the phone gets ignored. The philosophy is “whereever you are, be there!” I check emails only about 5 times a day or I’d never get anything done. The nature of my job means I still need it next to me while I sleep, but emergency phone calls are very infrequent.

    • IT’s great you can keep it to 5. Some study shows that many folks are in the 100s in terms of # of times checkign email!

  7. Hi Claire,
    I like your tip of not beginning/ending your day on your smartphone, it’s a practice I already use, and have sorta succeeded in getting my wife to follow, too. We have our son, a 17-year old HS senior living with us, and in order to foster his being present/avoiding constant distractibility, we’ve limited him to 15-min phone breaks, where he can check his social media, email, etc. Other than the one or two breaks he has daily, he’s not to be on his phone. Our family life prospers for it!

    • Oh that’s a great idea — 15 min. “breaks” for kids. I love it. Did you come up with that or read it somewhere?

      • My wife & I came up with it when we saw our son continually allowing himself to get pulled away from the present by checking his phone. He fell into ongoing group chats, some legitimately about classes & assignments, others not so much, and gave in to the compulsion to see what’s happening. We kid him and tell him he suffers from FOMO. 🙂

  8. With my teenagers 15 and 14 there is a direct correlation between having a cell phone and not having a cell. I have both phones here in my office and both Kids are getting straight A’s. Giving the phones back results in an immediate break down of communication and grades take a nose dive.

  9. Hi Claire,
    I see a lot of sense in this post, yet have two remarks:
    “…I’m betting the creators of this handy communication never intended for it to be our sole means of communication…” Clearly not! Then again: It’s in our nature to do things not as intended, be creative, find new uses of our devices do things the creators never imagined.
    “…Every once in awhile, resist the urge to text and instead make a phone call…” I adopted this habit a long time ago in business communications, and I keep telling my colleagues: If you sent 3 emails about the same topics during the past few hours, it’s time to pick up the phone and actually TALK to the other person!

    Thanks for the post, greetings from Good Old Germany

  10. I have several times had the impulse to text my 9 year old at school (and sometimes actually wishing I could text her!). I’m glad it’s not just me, but hadn’t connected that to texting being the automatic way to communicate. Will try & use my do not disturb more.

  11. Smartphones are an amazing tool for communication, but they can also be an amazing tool for isolation. My rule (to which I’m mostly faithful) is “Love the One You’re With.” I silence my phone in meetings, of course, but I also leave it away from the table for meals. Sometimes my husband and I will purposefully use our phones at the same time, but then we put them away and just BE together.

    I will say that texting is the BEST way to communicate with college-age and young adult kids, but good old-fashioned calls are a wonderful treat.

    One reason I’ve kept a land line in my house is so that I can have a phone by my bed (for emergencies) but not my cell phone. I let it charge in the kitchen and do not use it for an alarm clock. Having a cell phone (or a computer) by my bed is not conducive to rest. For me, rest is important not only for my body but also for my soul. . .so no phones in the bedroom for me.

    • I totally agree on the landline. We have one, and it’s in the bedroom at night also. And I love love LOVE THE ONE YOU”RE WITH!

  12. Great idea about not starting or ending your day with newsfeeds! It is better to ease into those items. I turned off my email notifications on my phone because I like the idea of checking email only a few times a day (2-3). This frees up more time to act on email and my own high priority projects. Often, tech can break down relationships and pull us away from our family, friends, and even true productivity. I recently listened to Gary Chapman’s book, Growing Up Social, which gives parents tips on how to make technology work for your family. This book also discusses different ideas on how to tame our grown-up addition to tech. 🙂 I highly recommend the book! (My library had it available as a free audio book.)

  13. Hi Claire. Yes, texting is quicker than calling but agree with you it’s nice to hear that other voice on the line. Appreciated your #2 suggestion, because I had no idea I could silence my phone without powering it down. Yes, I am technologically challenged. So thank you.