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Dear Charlie: How do I Develop a Healthier Relationship with My Phone?

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Dear Charlie is an advice column that allows readers to ask Charlie for guidance on how to deal with problems. Whether it’s about love, friendships, or frustrations, Charlie is here to give you tips and ideas for tackling life’s everyday challenges. Readers can ask Charlie for advice through DM via our Instagram @liubknews, or anonymously through this form.


How often do you use your phone? How often do you “wake up” your phone? I’m serious — check it right now.

To do this, you’ll need to go to settings, then screen time, then tap all activity. If you scroll down a little, you’ll find the number. At 12:51 p.m. today, Dec. 2, I had woken my phone up 33 times in the four hours I’d been awake. That’s over eight times every hour.

Most of us are probably addicted to our phones a little more than we’d like to admit. It isn’t really something to be ashamed of, though, considering they are designed just for that. Our smartphones are built to demand our attention and reward us for giving it to them.

However, in recent years, several studies and reports have highlighted how phones shorten our attention span and negatively affect our memory, as well as the risks of social media (this includes a study made by Facebook that showed that Instagram is harmful for teenage girls).

The problem is, like with any addiction — it can be really hard to quit. Phone addiction has a unique trait that makes it particularly hard: the tiny handheld computers are fully integrated in our lives. We can’t escape them.

So, I’m not going to tell you to throw your phone in the Hudson river. That is simply not feasible. But we can work on how and when we use them.

In her book, “How To Break Up With Your Phone,” science journalist Catherine Price lays out a 30-day plan for how to — hopefully — build a more conscious relationship to your phone.

Week one

The first few days are all about setting yourself up for success. It involves gathering data on how much you use your phone via a tracking app of your choice and beginning to observe your phone behavior.

Ask yourself: What do I like about my phone? What do I not like? In what kind of situations do I often pick up my phone? How do I feel after using it?

Then, it is time to delete all those pesky social media apps (note: this is not irreversible, and you can still check Twitter, Instagram and TikTok on your computer). Just delete them.

End the first week by getting back in touch with your life outside the confines of the screen. Ask yourself: what do I love to do? What would I do if I had more time?

Week two

After a week of setting yourself up for success, it’s time to do the same with your phone. First, turn off notifications (except phone calls, calendar, and — if you want — your messaging apps).

Then, sort your apps into six folders, based on the following categories:

  1. “Tools (camera, maps, bank apps, and the like),” apps that really do improve or are important in your daily life

  2. “Junk food apps (news apps, internet browsers, some social media —unless you deleted all week before — and email)”

  3. Apps where the downside often outweighs the benefits; “slot machine apps (social media, dating apps and shopping apps)”

  4. The apps that steal your attention but don’t improve your life; “clutter,” all the apps you downloaded when you were thirteen but haven’t used in many years

  5. “Utility apps (find my iPhone, app store, and similar apps)

  6. “The undeletables (yes, some phones still have this function).”

This week is also about setting boundaries, such as deciding in which rooms phones are prohibited and keeping it off the dinner table.

Week three

By this point, you’re probably already using your phone differently than before. Now, it’s time to put it to the test. After a week of meditating and enjoying things without your phone, the next step is to turn it off for 24 hours. You can do whatever you want during what Price calls the “Trial Separation,” except use your phone. Simple as that.

Week four

“Congratulations! The hardest part of the break-up is behind you,” Price writes. For the final week, the mission is to take care of yourself and consider how you can maintain this changed relationship with your phone.

If — and this is important — that is what you want. If this wasn’t for you, then it’s totally fine to keep doing it the way you did before. This month-long exercise is not meant to punish you. Or if you decide you want to continue, but slip up on occasion, that’s fine too. Your relationship with your phone isn’t stagnant, it can change depending on your needs. Although deviating from your norm might be uncomfortable, don’t punish yourself for it feel like it’s not right for you

Whatever you decide to do after the 30 days, you can be proud of yourself. You did something difficult, and maybe learned something about yourself in the meantime. Be well friends, and until next time!

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