June 16, 2024


An annoying thing about being a parent is that you have to consistently model good behavior. You can’t just pop kibble into your mouth and stare at your phone when you need a break.

I’ve always spent an unhealthy amount of time staring at my phone, but I didn’t worry about my habit until I had a toddler. The thing about toddlers is that they have more sophisticated surveillance techniques than Facebook. Even when you think they’re completely absorbed in emptying the contents of your cupboards onto the living room floor, they know when you’re looking at your phone and not at them. And according to various worrying studies, it guarantees a lifetime of therapy bills. For example, one 2023 study found that parental phone use was associated with “still face“. It means you look like a depressed robot while you’re browsing – and it can affect a child’s emotional development.

Still, it’s worth remembering that we all have the power to decompress our brains. Singer and actor Lily Allen and her husband, David Harbour, have come up with a new way to do this. In a recent Sunday Times interview, Allen said she stopped her daughters from using a smartphone until they were 14 and that she also uses a children’s phone (Pinwheel), with no social media or browsing capabilities. Her husband controls which apps she can use and she does the same for him.

I haven’t tried this approach yet, but I have discovered my own antidote to spending too much time on social media. I have dramatically curbed my addiction because I can’t stand scrolling past images of unprecedented suffering in Gaza – over 10,000 dead children and imposed mass starvation – interspersed with chatty tweets about the Kardashians. My Twitter habit may be broken, but so am I.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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