25 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Ask the expert: smartphone addiction is ruining our lives

Be aware of the situations and emotions that trigger you wanting to check your phone

Russell Hemmings.
3 Jun 2016 | 12:00 am

We – the entire family – are obsessed with our smartphones! Each evening is dominated with constantly looking at our phones. We are not really speaking to each other, which is not a good situation. How can we break this habit and get more enjoyment and balance from our family life?

Let me reassure you that you’re not the only one struggling with this very modern issue. People now check their smartphones compulsively. And the more they do this, the more often they get the urge to look, so a cycle is formed.

How many people check their smartphones within an hour of getting up? Within an hour of going to sleep? During a vacation? In my experience people aren’t actually addicted to the smartphones themselves as much as they are actually habituated to their own ‘checking habits’, which develop with smartphone use. They tap the screen repeatedly and absent-mindedly look at feeds, news, email, social media…

Think about this: if an average person checks his or her phone five times an hour during 16 hours of wakefulness and each check lasts 45 seconds, then that person is spending one hour each and every day simply ‘checking’. Which is also one hour not spent with your kids, with your friends, learning new things or getting fit!

I suggest you start by focusing on a particular time of the day that will become device-free family time, with no exceptions.

I find the main family mealtime of the day is ideal time for this. Traditionally mealtimes were when we’d learn about each other’s day, discover new things and build family connections. Sadly, with the answers to everything apparently a mere click away, many have lost this simple pleasure.

Couple this with the rise of convenience TV-style dinners and you have a recipe for a kind of isolation in a group, in that we’re together, but not connecting or interacting directly.

It doesn’t have to be a mealtime, you can pick a time to suit. Once you’ve done this as a family you’ll be surprised to rediscover the pleasures of being in control of your own attention span.

To guide you along, here are a few tips. Be aware of the situations and emotions that trigger you wanting to check your phone. Is it boredom? Isolation? Pure habit? Try considering that something else could interest you even more. You could avoid temptation further by switching off the audible alert on the phone.

Finally, I suggest you try broadening these device-free times wherever you can. This will improve your self-discipline, and help you become more aware of your surroundings and those you’re with. And when you do get back online you’ll be more aware of looking for something specific, as opposed to just looking for some kind of connection.

Got a problem?

Email your queries to

Russell Hemmings.

Russell Hemmings

Life coach, and clinical and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist. More info: / 04 4273627 / 055 2867275.