Are Smartphones the new cigarettes? Part 2: change is happening

In my work, I am so lucky to be in a community and work environment where I am encouraged to not only put my phone down during the day but to use that time to be physically active. So when I wrote my recent article “Are smartphones the new cigarettes?” it wasn’t a surprise that I was surrounded by people who agreed with my theory.

It was a surprise however, when just a few months later, one of the very companies I was calling out as “today’s Tobacco companies” made this announcement: “Facebook, Instagram add tools to limit time spent on the apps.” Yes, you read that correctly, Facebook and Instagram have released new features that actually limit the time you spend on Facebook and Instagram.

The article goes on to say that Silicon Valley companies are coming to terms with the negative consequences of its products. Ameet Ranadive, product management director at Instagram, and David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook, said in a statement, “Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”

While this is just one small feature and I’m not expecting it to drastically change a now well-adopted social behavior, it is a positive step in that Silicon Valley actually acknowledged the negative impact its products have on society. It’s like they gave themselves their own Surgeon’s General Warning and I applaud them for that.

You can learn about how to use this feature in the full article from CNET here. I will be setting this up for myself and my teenagers just in time for back to school.  Beyond utilizing this feature, I wanted to provide parents, teachers and community members some advice on balancing screen time as we start a new school year. While I’m no expert, I’m hoping this advice will come in handy as we all navigate this new world of parents and educating in a time of digital technology:

  • Explain why limiting screen time is important: kids at every age are often smarter than we give them credit for. Be sure to take the time to explain the dangers of tech addiction.
  • Practice what you preach: our kids pick up on everything we do (no matter their age) so if you are consumed by your device they will think it’s okay for them to do as well.
  • Make eye contact: human connection is so important and increasingly lost as we stare at screens all day – so whether you are teaching, coaching or parenting be sure that phones are down and you are speaking directly with the young people in your life.
  • Schedule a phone free activity a day: this could be a tough one based on schedules but be sure that you have at least one screen free activity a day (go for a run, cook dinner together or play a board game).