When my eldest child started preschool a decade ago, parents would stand outside the school before dismissal, planning playdates for the kids and coffee dates with each other.
But now? Now I drive to school to pick up my kids and, like every other parent, stay in my car and answer text messages from other moms sitting three parking spots away. Sometimes (rebel that I am) I walk up to a friend’s car in person, to chat face-to-face.
It’s true that smartphones offer some connectivity and safety benefits such as instant communication and directions. But the excessive use of smartphones can lead to an array of problems that impair our relationships and our health.
If you struggle to put your smartphone away while in the company of others (or when you should be resting) your phone may be slowly devouring your life.
Here are five ways your smartphone may be wreaking havoc in your life, and tips on what you can do about it:
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1. Your Smartphone May Be Hindering Your Faith Walk
You see it all the time—several people seated together on commuter benches but no one making eye contact. Many are busy checking the status updates of “friends” they’ve never actually met.
Likewise, you see people obsessively checking their phones while someone nearby needs help crossing the street, walking up a set of stairs, or carrying bags. These instances amount to missed opportunities to bring kindness to another’s day by uttering a simple “good morning,” or to lend a hand to someone who can use the help.
Research shows that heavy social media use (often on smartphones) has driven narcissistic tendencies up while driving empathetic tendencies down. Aside from affecting the way we treat strangers, media and technology use is also affecting the way we treat our children.
In one study, 32 percent of 8- to 13-year olds reported that they felt unimportant when their parents were distracted by their phones.
As Christians, we’re to love one another as brothers and sisters. We’re also to show strangers hospitality because in doing so, we may just be showing hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2). Moreover, we’re to honor our God-given duty to raise our children with love for God and love for neighbor so that when our children grow up, they’ll continue to live by God’s light and, hopefully, shine that light to others (Proverbs 22:6).
A Faith-Building Tip:
Take time to enjoy fellowship with those around you by putting away your phone and catching up face-to-face with loved ones, or by simply acknowledging your fellow man or woman with a nod or a smile. Reacquaint yourself with the art of conversation and, in doing so, make the most of nourishing your faith by reflecting God’s love as you show an interest in the lives and well-being of others.
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2. Your Smartphone May Be Hurting Your Marriage
Remember the “honeymoon” phase of your marriage when you and your spouse held hands everywhere you walked or couldn’t spend an hour away from each other without calling in to say hello and I love you?
After some time, the newness of marriage wears off, ushering in a familiarity that some find reassuring while others take for granted. One instant way to make your spouse feel unheard and unappreciated is to spend more time interacting with your phone than with your beloved.
All healthy relationships take commitment and effort, and marriage is no different. Love isn’t solely an emotion that you feel but an action that you take to make your spouse feel valued. Nothing makes your spouse feel more valued than being the center of your attention when you make eye contact, ask questions about his or her day, and show warmth and affection through physical contact.
Like Scripture says, “Love is patient, love is kind…it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Spending quality time with your spouse—without checking every beep and flash of your smartphone—allows you to show your spouse the type of love that helps make strained marriages stronger, and good marriages great.
A Marriage-Honoring Tip:
Make a point of only checking your phone up until dinnertime. Spend the evening (or some other mutually convenient time) connecting with your spouse over conversation, a meal, or a walk together with no screens in sight.
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3. Your Smartphone May Be Stealing Your Sleep
God created us to be embodied souls in need of adequate rest, just as the Lord Himself rested on the seventh day of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
If you aren’t consistently getting this amount of sleep, your late-night use of your cell phone may be to blame. If you sleep with your cell phone on your bed or nightstand, you may be tempted to check social media, review emails, or finish up that word puzzle game on your phone “for just a few more minutes” when you should be trying to sleep.
Even a few minutes of these smartphone activities before bed can disrupt your sleep by giving you a sudden boost of energy when you should be winding down, or by stressing you out when you should be relaxing before drifting off. In addition, cell phones emit blue light, which is a type of light visible to the human eye. Your brain interprets your phone’s blue light as daylight, causing your brain to suppress the production of melatonin which, in turn, is the hormone that controls your body’s sleep/wake cycle. This decrease in melatonin makes it harder for you to fall and remain asleep.
A Sleep-Encouraging Tip:
Strive for sufficient sleep by avoiding smartphone use 30 minutes before bed. If you know that your cell phone is the culprit behind consecutive nights of lost sleep, consider making your bedroom a smartphone-free zone altogether.
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4. Your Smartphone May Be Impairing Your Cognitive Health
Scripture instructs that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). If we’re to revere the Lord and know His Word, we must study it, which requires sound cognitive ability. Cell phone use has been shown to affect our cognitive health. In particular, research shows that smartphone use has a significant negative impact on our working memory performance. This negative impact starts to become evident after as little as five minutes of cell phone use.
To make matters worse, studies also show that smart phone use slows down our thinking process because it delegates thinking tasks to our devices instead of to our brains. Further studies show that learning new information from a screen instead of from a printed book hinders comprehension and conceptual thinking.
A Brain-Benefitting Tip:
Let your brain recharge by giving yourself a smartphone detox. Get your news or other information from a newspaper or book for deeper comprehension. You can further expand this smartphone detox by setting a specific time or two to check all updates and feeds for the day.
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5. Your Smartphone May Be Damaging Your Eyes
The Bible tells us that our eyes are the “lamp” of our body and that if our eyes are healthy, then our “whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22-23). According to UC Davis Health, excessive exposure to blue light over time may damage retinal cells and be linked to vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and eye cancer. Importantly, children are more vulnerable than adults to screen-related eye problems because children’s eyes absorb more blue light from digital devices.
Adding to these eye health concerns is the fact that the use of digital devices such as smartphones can contribute to dry eye syndrome as well as to eye strain. Signs of eye strain include headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.
An Eye-Friendly Tip:
Purchase a blue-light filter for your smartphone to cut down on the amount of blue light reaching your eyes without affecting the visibility of the screen’s display. You can also follow the 20-20-20 rule to decrease digital eye strain—i.e. stop looking at your smartphone every 20 minutes to focus on something else 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Smartphones are here to stay, in our lives and in our pockets. Although smartphones make our lives easier in many respects, they can wreak havoc when persistently used to replace face-to-face communication and critical thinking.
Reclaim your health—the health of your faith, your relationships, and your body—by putting away your digital device more often. Enjoy the benefits of engaging, instead, in the actual world around you.