Personal screens are everywhere. If you walk into any public place, you’re likely to see many people looking at their phones or tablets, relatively unaware of the outside world. Even in restaurants, places where socializing is one of the main activities, it’s not hard to find couples and families alike sitting around the tables absorbed in their individual phones, playing games, texting, or browsing social media.
This level of phone usage in almost all areas of people’s lives has led to speculation about the impact on interpersonal relationships. How much do screens really affect the connections that people have with each other?
Cell Phones: Not All Bad
It is difficult to claim that cell phones are bad for relationships. They can be good. Phones don’t have a completely negative impact on people’s relationships with each other. In fact, cell phones and other forms of technology do offer substantial benefits for both short and long distance relationships.
Sending a quick text or photo to let your spouse know you’re thinking of them or leaving a comment on your friend’s Facebook post can do a lot to build and maintain that relationship. It’s a chance to communicate and share in a way that was previously impossible unless someone was right next to you – or was near a landline phone.
Cell Phones: Still Potentially Bad
However, overuse of phones can threaten the quality of our interpersonal relationships. If used compulsively, or for the majority of the hours in a day, your phone can become just another of the many distractions that pull you away from focusing on important tasks and spending time with the people you care about most.
Cell phones are addictive. They require you to drown out the rest of the world even more so than TV. And they can be a communication crutch, used as a replacement to spending time with others in person or communicating to people outside of your current friend group. There are several studies that have also linked cell phone use to the development of depression and anxiety.
What to Do to Limit the Effects of Cell Phones on Relationships
To prevent the damage to your priorities that cell phone over-usage can cause, you must find ways to limit it usage and plug into your in-person relationships, surroundings, and experiences more often.
In order to limit your phone time, you need to devote energy, mindfulness, and self-reflection to your priorities. Enforcing this limitation may also be easier if you’re held accountable in some way, either by:
- Yourself – Have a set time of day, like dinnertime or bedtime, where you put the phone down and don’t look at it.
- Other People – Ask a friend or family member to gently point out when you’re distracted by your phone or tell you more directly that you’re spending too much time on your phone and that they need your undivided attention.
- Your Phone – Many phone models have a built-in feature or app you can download to monitor how much time each day you actively use your phone and in what ways you’re using it.
It’s worth at least thinking about the extent to which it’s possible to put your phone down. Setting limits for yourself on using phones and other types of technology can help you connect more deeply and authentically to the people right in front of you. If relationships are something you hope to improve, contact Long Island Psychology today.