Blog Takeover: “How To Balance The Time We Spend On Our Phones”

After School’s Blog Takeover is a new series where teen users publish their thoughts on the After School Blog and related channels. In this first post a student shares her thoughts on how teens can balance their smartphone use.

The following post was written by Olivia Tucker, High School Sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia

In a May 2016 poll by CNN, 50% of teenagers said they considered themselves addicted to technology. Meanwhile, 59% of the parents polled called their children addicted.

Growing up in today’s tech-saturated environment has given many adolescents tunnel vision into a virtual reality that is detracting from real-life experiences. Social media and the convenience provided by cell phones have changed interactions between youth as well as stunted personal growth. Being a part of this generation so focused on social media has posed a challenge for me in balancing meaningful interactions online, while also avoiding overload.

Watching teenagers spend time together — heads down, eyes glued — can be a depressing experience. It is possible, and often probable, to spend hours with friends and not interact at all beyond liking and commenting on each others’ Instagrams. The issue with moderating one’s own technology use is that there is an overwhelming desire to feel a part of it all: competing for the best Instagram, the most Snapchat streaks, the amount of likes on a photo.

As Millennials have so aptly coined it, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) affects me and those around me daily. We want to feel included, appreciated, validated in a reality that only exists on our phones; hindering us from being aware of our own technology consumption. I have come to some degree of peace with myself about this issue, but it still remains at the forefront of my thoughts because of how it impacts my interactions with other people my age.

Taking a Step Back

Spending a month away from my phone this summer while doing service work in Asia has given me the opportunity to reflect on how I use, or overuse, social media. Recently, I have become much more intentional about how and when I use my phone. During exams week in the spring, my friends and I deleted Snapchat and Instagram so not to distract ourselves from studying. I have curbed my bad habit of scrolling through Instagram out of boredom, and have also taken to calling people if I have a question instead of texting them. Being intentional about interactions online will make those connections more meaningful. Snapchatting someone simply to keep the streak is not strengthening any relationships.

I urge you to consider your own daily social media use and the value in the time you spend on your phone. Think analytically. How much time do you spend using social media versus time spent actually doing things worth talking about online? Which parts of your daily online interactions are borne out of habit, rather than meaning? Identifying the aspects of social media that bring you joy may help to eliminate mindless time spent online. Taking specific action to find more balance with the time you spend on your phone will force you to be aware, and as a result, more intentional.

Spend a day with Instagram deleted from your phone, and reflect — how does it make you feel? Are you anxious about missing posts, or soothed by not feeling pressure to like and comment on everyone’s photos? Go out with your friends and do not post a Snapchat Story. I have come to the realization that it is OK if 100 people do not know how I spent my afternoon. When you are scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr in a moment of inactivity, consider other small things you could be doing in that moment to improve your life or the ones of those around you. You may reap the rewards.

It keeps hitting me that the more time I spend on my phone, the more I am missing of life, and this bothers me. As I write this post, I am at the beach with friends and we have been making a point of leaving our phones at the house when we go out on the water or into town. I know that all these things may seem obvious to older generations, but for many people my age, it requires a high level of awareness to balance how much time we spend on our phones.

There is much to be said for using social media to your advantage to strengthen relationships, make new connections, and expand one’s world view. At the same time, we need to have experiences that aren’t online to create a world view in the first place. Finding a balance between these two things has been challenging for me in recent years, and I feel that I am in a good place with my technology consumption now. Being on my phone less and in real-life more has significantly reduced my anxiety and increased my happiness in the past few weeks, and I believe strongly that many people could benefit from trying the same thing.

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