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Device Addiction Is Killing Face Time

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As is its yearly custom, Apple recently unveiled a slew of updates, upgrades and new features for Apple product aficionados. Yet among the many advancements there was an uncommon addition this year — a tool to help users curb their phone addiction.

Even Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) acknowledges it: Device addiction is a consuming problem that has deep mental health implications.

By the way, I am not suggesting devices are bad. In fact, you are probably reading this on your phone! The problem arises when we allow technology to build a barrier between us and the world around us.

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For example, half of all teenagers "feel addicted" to their phones and mobile devices. What's more, 78% of teenagers feel the need to check their mobile devices for notifications and messages hourly. Parents are almost as bad, with 69% of those polled saying they check their phones at least once per hour.

What fuels this addictive reaction? I think a major driver is what is commonly referred to as FOMO — the "fear of missing out." We can't shake the nagging sense that everyone else is participating in an amazing experience and we're the only ones who are not a part of it. The only way to ensure we don't miss out is to feverishly check our social media feeds, a habit that quickly becomes an obsession.

This dependency has dangerous consequences. Previous studies have shown that nearly half of all adults (47%) admit to texting or reading text messages while behind the wheel of a car, and 44% of adults report having been a passenger when the driver used their phone in a way that put people in danger.

More dangerous still is what happens within our bodies and minds. A recent study suggests a correlation between increased phone use and a rise in depression and suicide in teenagers. Teens who spent five or more hours a day on devices were nearly twice as likely to consider suicide than teens who only spent one hour.

Our kids are being crushed by a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality in a social media culture that expects one's manicured crop of photos and posts to reveal unique and exclusive events and experiences. As our sons and daughters fret over having a polished social media façade, they are starving for meaningful relationships. Snapchat and Twitter will never be a substitute for face-to-face relationship.

So what can we do to break this addiction?

For starters, we must set boundaries. We must protect the face time that we have with the people around us. For example, I knew a man who, anytime he'd witness someone at the dinner table sneak a peek at their phone, would say — to much eye rolling — "the most important people in the whole world to you right now are at this table, please put that phone away." It seems elementary that a phrase like that would even have to be uttered, but these are the times we are in. I love seeing that man's children — those same eye rollers — now using that phrase themselves to protect family time at their own dinner tables.

Setting boundaries includes intentionally turning off and putting down the phone, tablet, computer, remote and gaming device. Contrary to how we may feel, life will not pass us by if we aren't able to check Facebook every 20 minutes. For some, deleting social media apps may be helpful. If going cold-turkey for a bit is too harsh, set time limits on your use of these devices and set goals to increase how long you can last without using them.

We must also pursue relationships. This is not done with the swipe of a finger. Relationships require time and work. Introduce yourself to that new student or coworker. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Let your kids host a game night and sleepover. Instead of texting or emailing, decide to call or physically deliver your message. Try living a day without technology. Our grandparents could do it, surely we can too.

And don't forget to carve out space for yourself, too. Take time to go for a walk or a jog. Read a book. Go fishing. Just sit and think. Doing these things will help you see just how much devices have stolen from your life.

Hopefully these ideas can help you curb the intrusion of devices in your life. If you find that more drastic steps are required, a trained counselor can equip you with focused exercises and hold you accountable as you work to unplug.

So put down that phone. Take a deep breath. Relax. Enjoy the beautiful world and the wonderful people that God has given us.

Tim Clinton, Ed. D., LPC, LMFT is President of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors, the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He serves as the Executive Director and Dean of Education for the James Dobson Family Institute and is recurring cohost of Dr. Dobson's signature radio program, Family Talk. The author of over 30 books, he is professor of counseling and pastoral care and executive director of the James C. Dobson Center for Child Development, Marriage and Family Studies at Liberty University. Follow him @DrTimClinton.

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