When Mom Can't Put Down Her Phone

Marie Osborne

Marie Osborne
Updated Aug 03, 2023
When Mom Can't Put Down Her Phone

I never want to parent out of a screen-induced stupor. I am tired of being distracted and distant from my family. 

“What is going on?” I shout. My three kids freeze. I was sitting at the kitchen table listening to them argue, waiting for them to figure it out, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I responded to their stunned faces, “Everyone, go upstairs to your room. You all need a break.” “But mom!” my daughter cried out, frustrated at the injustice. “What?” I replied, “You guys have been arguing all afternoon! This is ridiculous!” “Mom,” she interrupted, “We were playing.” Their faces confirmed it. They were playing, pretending to be characters in a movie they just watched. I had no idea even though I was in the same room. I was too distracted by my phone.

A Time Before Smartphones

I’m what they call a “geriatric millennial.” I grew up without social media and smartphones, but all of that came around while I was a young adult. I remember a time when none of it existed, but it has also been part of some of the most formative years of my life.

I remember getting my first cell phone right out of high school. A little Nokia. I programmed it to play one of my favorite songs as the ringtone. I would call my friends from church to chat or plan a time to hang out, but that was about it. It was just a regular phone, but it was with me all the time. It was pretty convenient for a young woman, to be quite honest. If we were out late, I never felt like I would be stuck somewhere with a flat tire, unable to call for help. My mom could always get ahold of me, no matter where I was. Cell phones were great as far as I was concerned.

A Long, Complicated Relationship

I didn’t get a smartphone for another 10 years. Right around the time, I became a mom. I remember playing Angry Birds while I was nursing my son in the middle of the night. I remember snapping pictures of his daily activities and sharing them on Facebook, then Instagram. I remember texting mom friends during the lonely hours of nap time. It was pretty convenient for a young mom. I was stuck at home a lot. I could connect with others through texting and social media, waiting for the day that our nap schedule would allow me to leave the house more freely. Smartphones were great as far as I was concerned.

I’ve had a smartphone for nearly 12 years now. My kids are coming to the age where they are asking for their own phones. I’ve read articles about how detrimental smartphones are for kids. The increased likelihood of depression and anxiety. The eating disorders and mental health issues. Cyberbullying and even suicide. We’ve had long conversations with them about why we are waiting and why they don’t need phones even though their friends might have them. And yet, every day, all day, they see me with a phone in my hand.

My smartphone habit wasn’t all that bad at first. To tell you the truth, it happened pretty gradually. I wanted it with me all the time so I could take pictures of the kids. They were growing up so fast. I didn’t want to miss the chance to capture these special moments. But if you have fun pictures of your kids, why not post them on Facebook or Instagram? And once you post them, why wouldn’t you check to see what other people are up to? Or if anyone has liked or commented on your photos? 

Social Media and Beyond

Then, of course, each of the social networks made changes to make social media even more addictive. People started posting stories, which provided an endless stream of real-time content. I can find out what people are doing right now. Then came Reels. Short bite-sized addictive videos that make you laugh, think, nod, like, scroll, scroll, scroll. While social media started out as a way to keep in touch with friends, it’s become a place where I numb out, wasting hours mindlessly scrolling and not really connecting with anyone. Before I know it, I’ve wasted my entire day staring at this device. 

But it’s not just social media. I’ve deleted social media apps from my phone altogether. I even deactivated my accounts for a while. But I still have regular, easy access to the internet and email. Throughout my day, I’ll remember things that need to get done: texting a friend to plan something, looking up a book I need to order, filling my cart for a Target pick-up, checking a website to see when a package is arriving, messaging my doctor through their app, checking and responding to emails, and on and on and on it goes. So many little things that need to get done, and for some reason, they all need to get done on my phone. Constantly picking it up. Constantly checking. Constantly staring at my phone. 

Truthfully, it’s not all business either. There are so many ways to get sucked in, even with seemingly innocuous apps. I wanted to learn a language, so I downloaded Duolingo. Then, I wanted to challenge my brain so I downloaded Sudoku and Words with Friends. They seemed like benign games, even good for me. I was kind of snobby about not getting sucked into things like Candy Crush, but truthfully, Duolingo can be just as bad. I would sit at the breakfast table and waste my entire morning racking up gems and hearts all while “learning Spanish.” And my family would walk by, watching me stare at my phone.

Enough Is Enough

There were just too many mornings where I lost track of time. Too many instances where I snapped at my kids or heard myself saying, “I’m in the middle of something.” Too much wasted time and energy on this little rectangle in my hand. I had to find a way to put down my phone. 

Of course, there are alternatives to my iPhone. I can get an old “dumb” flip phone, or one of those newer options that doesn't have internet or apps, mostly created for kids. I haven’t been ready to do that yet, but I’m not opposed to it at some point. For now, I’ve settled on this approach: 1) I have admitted to myself that I have a smartphone addiction. Other people might be able to use their phones responsibly, but I just can’t. 2) I have deleted social media apps from my phone. This is a major time-suck for me, and I just can’t have access through my phone. 3) I have removed the Safari and Mail icons from my screen and blocked the use of Safari completely. I save all my work for a specific time in the afternoon on my laptop. 4) I have made the display black and white. This makes it far less interesting to my eyes and mind to use my phone. 5) I downloaded the OffScreen app to set daily goals for pick-ups and time on my phone. All of these things have helped tremendously, while still allowing me the freedom to use the beneficial aspects of my smartphone. 

I never want to stare at my kids' blank faces again when I’ve yelled at them for no reason. I never want to parent out of a screen-induced stupor. I am tired of being distracted and distant from my family. It’s time for mom to put down her phone. For good.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Yuliya Taba