Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. While there is no doubt that smartphones have many benefits, they also have the potential to disrupt our relationships and even our mental health! Recent research indicates that smartphone use is a rising cause of relationship problems. It has become very common to use smartphones in the presence of significant others and children, which diverts our attention away from them and leaves less time available for talking and enjoying positive interactions together, which are essential for sustaining positive relationships. When we are occupied by a smartphone instead of interacting with loved ones, they can feel shunned or rejected. This is because focusing our attention on a smartphone rather than on those around us can give others the impression that they are not as important as the email we are reading, the website we are viewing, or the game we are playing. Over time, this can cause feelings of anger, resentment, and even drops in mood and self-esteem.
Beyond the distracting power of smartphones that causes us to pay less attention to our loved ones, there is evidence that when we use smartphones in the presence of our children we are more likely to respond to them in a negative manner. In a recent study, parents who used their smartphones while dining with their children were not only less likely to interact with their children, but also more likely to react with irritation or anger when their children attempted to interact with them.
It is clear that smartphone use has the ability to disrupt our relationships with significant others and our children. So what can we do? It is important to find and maintain a balance between time for smartphone use and time dedicated to enjoying others’ company. The following steps can help smartphone users maintain healthy relationships:
1. Evaluate your smartphone use and determine which smartphone activities are necessary and which are not. If you find yourself using certain apps out of habit rather than enjoyment, delete them.
2. Set aside a specified time for necessary smartphone use.
3. Set “technology-free” times, during which you put your phone away and give your full attention to those you are with. Suggested technology-free times include: dinner, before bed, and when doing any activity together, such as watching a movie or playing a game.
4. Silence your phone during these times or keep it out of reach to limit distractions.
Christine Rothwell, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
* The research findings mentioned above were obtained from: Don’t Text While Parenting – It Will Make You Cranky by Alice Park, Time Magazine, March 10, 2014 and Harm from a Handheld: Your Partner’s Smartphone May Actually Make You Depressed by Guy Winch, Psychology Today, March/April 2015