You and your mobile phone – who’s in control?

I read a really interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald last week and I have since self-diagnosed myself with “email- triggered anxiety”. It was quite a relief to read this article and realise that I am normal ( although I am sure that my family would rigorously argue this point!). I’m sure that many of you have also shared the feeling of despair you experience when you check your inbox and there are what seems like hundreds of emails sitting there just waiting for you.

Reading the SMH article made me stop, reflect and think about the role that my mobile phone plays in my life and the serious impact I am allowing it to have on my wellbeing at times. Although undeniably useful in many ways, I believe that my mobile phone has increased my levels of anxiety enormously, as having a mobile phone creates the expectation that we can be contacted at any time, and it is very difficult to turn off.

I’m really showing my age here, but I can remember a pre-mobile phone life and it was in many ways a far simpler life and to a degree much less stressful.

In days gone by, people could only contact you through work hours and once you left work you were “off duty”. Now the concept of being “off duty” just doesn’t exist. 

Although our children have never had the opportunity to live in a mobile phone free world, and if you actually ever suggested it to them, they would rather lose a limb than their mobile, I believe that mobile phones unknowingly create much stress in our children’s lives.

For most young people (and many adults) mobile phones are addictive. We all know how incredibly hard it is to ignore the beep of an incoming call or text or the feeling of compulsion to be constantly checking our phones just in case someone has been in contact. We all live in a constant state of FOMO in regards to our phones. This is especially true for our children who feel the need to constantly be connected. Any parent who has threatened to, or tried to remove a phone from a teenager knows the hysterical response that you will receive.

We also know that mobile phones create incredible distraction in our lives as we just can’t ignore them. Also we can waste an enormous amount of time just being on our phones checking often random and meaningless ‘stuff’ which really doesn’t add any significance to our lives. We know that teenagers think that they can multi-task and be on their phones and study at the same time. However, my experience working with teenagers has shown me time and time again that multi-tasking is a fallacy. I had an interesting conversation with one of the High School students during the week and she told me that the first thing she does each morning is to check Tik Tok for 15-20 minutes. She said she is now getting up earlier so she can check Tik Tok and not be late to school. I suggested that she would be better off getting 20 minutes extra sleep rather than getting up early to check Tik Tok and unsurprisingly she looked at me as though I had two heads!

I also worry about the impact of mobile phones on the quality of our social interactions. Wherever I go I see a society glued to their mobile phones. Nothing saddens me more than to go to a restaurant for dinner and to see families fixated on their phones and no one is speaking to each other. I’m also horrified when I see young parents hand their toddlers a mobile phone to keep their children occupied and quiet. I really worry that we are losing control of our lives and we are losing our ability to connect with each other in person and to speak with one another. We now live in a communication world where we text and message each other rather than speak to one another.

As parents I feel that often we believe it is just easier to allow our children to use their phones without any boundaries, but I think in our families we need to take control of this mobile phone obsession and lead by example and to set some family rules and expectations about our mobile phone use. 

Where possible I think as a family, we should try to collectively devise a set of family guidelines around appropriate mobile phone usage which works for all members of the family.

Some suggestions might be:

  • No mobile phones at the dinner table
  • No mobile phones when you go out for dinner
  • No use of mobiles after a certain time each evening e.g. 8:00pm
  • When going to bed all mobiles are left in a central place e.g. the kitchen
  • No mobile phones when you go on a family activity such as a family walk with the dog
  • No mobile phone whilst doing homework or studying

An even more radical idea, with the holidays approaching at the end of next week, is to have a family agreement to have a few mobile phone/technology-free days for the whole family. The best way to achieve this is to go to a more remote location for a few days where there is limited or no mobile reception available, then the choice is removed! I am incredibly lucky that my parents live in the middle of the Riverina and when I go to visit them, which I do regularly, they have no internet and there is virtually no mobile reception. If I need to check my mobile, I have to go into town to the local cemetery to stand on a small hill to get a few bars of reception! However, I actually really appreciate that I can’t be distracted by my phone, that I can’t be contacted, and that I can devote my time and energy to my parents.

I’m sure that many of you may think that the suggestions I am making may seem very old fashioned, but I really feel that we have to take control of our mobile phone usage and not allow it to dominate our lives and the lives of our children. Sadly, I think that mobile phones have just crept into our lives and now we find it almost impossible to live without them unless we make the conscious decision not to allow this to happen.

I know that what I am suggesting is not easy, but I think it is worth the battle. As adults we need to role model responsible mobile phone use for our children,  and show them that we can make a choice not to allow our mobile phones to dominate our lives. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORMark Hemphill headshot

Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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