Strategies to break small-screen addiction
If you are among the approximately 50% of adults and teens [1, 2] who feel addicted to smartphones or tablets, then this article about small screen addiction will be a valuable resource to you.
If you are a parent who is concerned about the small screen habits of your young children or teen, then you will find helpful information here as well.
The combination of addictive apps and small screen devices has a powerful capacity to elevate dopamine levels in the brain. This causes downregulation of the dopamine receptors on brain neurons, which makes it more and more difficult to experience pleasure.
Finally, the overstimulation of neurons by dopamine begins killing neurons in the brain, which is a clear sign of physiological addiction. Thus, small screen addiction is very serious – it modifies and damages normal brain activity! [3, 4]
Help for Individuals and Families
The first set of suggestions will address the problems faced by individual users who are addicted to their small screen devices.
The second set of suggestions addresses family needs. It is not uncommon for parents, young children, and teens to all be engaged in small screen addictions, and it can be beneficial for family members to work together to change how they relate to this technology and how they relate to one another.
Finally, we will look at the spiritual side of addiction and consider the source of power that is needed to overcome addiction when self-will fails to break the chokehold that small screen technology has on adults and children.
Since this is the fourth article in the series about small screen addiction, there is naturally a lot of background information that has not been repeated from the previous articles. It is not necessary to read the previous articles to benefit from the suggestions that will be presented here. However, it will help you take this material to a deeper level and make the possibility of breaking a small screen addiction more likely if you have read the previous articles.
Article 1 showed how app designers intentionally manipulate hormones in the brain of users to create addictive apps for smartphones and tablets.
Article 2 explained the dopamine-serotonin connection and how some addictive apps alter these hormones in the brain creating small screen addictions that are just as powerful as drug, alcohol, pornography, and sugar addictions.
Article 3 focused on the need to address both the dopamine and the serotonin side of the addiction equation in order to establish freedom from compulsive small screen use. It focused on building up serotonin in the brain of small screen addicts to increase the experience of true happiness and contentment.
Strategies for Addressing the Dopamine Side of Small Screen Addiction
There are many articles on the internet that give suggestions for small screen addicts who want to cut down on the time they give to their small screen devices. Some of the recommendations help people simply cut down on the number of hours spent using the devices. Other articles go deeper and help people avoid getting dopamine hits from addictive apps.
The suggestions I am providing were selected from some of the more comprehensive and reliable sources that I have found. After I highlight some of the more powerful suggestions, I will provide links to the articles so that you can read the complete list of suggestions and the specific techniques that can be used to implement the suggestions.
The first set of suggestions target the needs of individuals. Suggestions for parents and families will be in the next section.
Suggestions for Individuals – Breaking the Power of Dopamine in the Brain
For Individuals: Take Control — from the Center for Humane Technology
These are a few of their suggestions. They have been edited for brevity. Details for implementing the changes are available in the article. 
Turn off all notifications except from people. Most notifications are generated by machines, not actual people. They keep our phones vibrating to lure us back into apps we don’t really need to be in.
Go Grayscale. Colorful icons give our brains shiny rewards every time we unlock. Set your phone to grayscale to remove those positive reinforcements. It helps many people check their phone less.
Try keeping your home screen to tools only. Limit your first page of apps to just tools–the apps you use for quick in-and-out tasks like Maps, Camera, Calendar, Notes, or Lyft.
Move the rest of your apps, especially mindless choices, off the first page and into folders.
Launch other apps by typing. Typing takes just enough effort to make us pause and ask, “Do I really want to do this?”
Remove social media from your phone. If you really want to use your phone less, we recommend removing all the major social media apps from your phone. It’s the easiest way to cut back, as these apps can easily gobble up huge amounts of our time. Train yourself to use them from your computer only (if at all).
For Individuals: Smartphone Addiction: Tips for Breaking Free of Compulsive Smartphone and Internet Use – from HelpGuide.com
The Help Guide mentions the fact that people with small screen addictions will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back on small screen time. Withdrawal symptoms may include: restlessness, anger or irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and intense cravings for using a smartphone or other device. 
Be prepared! Withdrawal does not last forever, though it can feel that way when you are in the middle of it.
It can be very helpful to use Dr. Robert Lustig’s 4-Cs (described in article 3) as you begin to make changes in small screen activity. His suggestions will help you build up your serotonin levels and feel happier and more content as you go through withdrawal.
Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, you might schedule use for certain times of day, or you could reward yourself with a certain amount of time on your phone once you’ve completed a homework assignment or finished a chore, for instance. 
Turn off your phone at certain times of the day. Have it off when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom. 
Strategies for Families –Pushing Down Dopamine and Restoring Family Life
Parents are now raising the first generation of childhood and teenage small screen users. The first smartphones were sold in 2007 and the first tablets were sold in 2010. 
Millions of parents all over the country are feeling the need to make decisions about how to manage these devices for their younger children. The parenting task is even more complex for parents of teens who often rebel against attempts of their parents to control their small screen activity.
As all of these articles note, small screen devices clearly effect brain development and the mental health status of children and teens. We don’t yet know about the long-term consequences of toddlers and very young children having extended access to small screens and continuing daily use of those devices through all the developmental stages leading to adulthood, but there is serious reason for concern.
For Families: 90 Percent of 2-Year-Olds Use Tablets and Smartphones. Do YOU Know the Risks?
Elyse Wanshel provides ten compelling reasons why you shouldn’t give a young child a smartphone or tablet.
The author reported:
Did you know that in tablet-owning households, seven out of 10 parents let their kids play with their tablets? And because of this, a team of researchers at University of Iowa have also discovered that by age two, 90 percent of modern children had a moderate ability to use a tablet.
“We have a lot of 2-year-olds using tablets now, and I see 3- and 4-year-olds that are already addicted,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Los Angeles-based child and family psychotherapist. “It’s mind-blowing and a little scary.” 
For Families: Yes, smartphone addiction does harm your teen’s mental health
The following link provides good information about mental health issues faced by teen who use small screens. 
For Families: What will happen if I take my child’s phone away?
This article describes how parents and their children can establish new ways of relating to one another when they remove small screens from the dominant place in family life. 
For Families: Can You Balance Screen Time and Family Time?
In a new book entitled, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, Anya Kamenetz, National Public Radio’s Digital Education Correspondent, provides information that will help parents work through the process of creating a healthy environment where screen time can be balanced with family time.
Suggestions are based on over 500 interviews with families. You can listen to her interview from NPR’s On Point radio show. 
Listen to the Interview:
Several apps were mentioned on the radio program, which can be used to monitor and set limits on small screen usage.
Free Time for Kindle: A subscription to kid-friendly content with parental time controls
Circle: Filter your Kids Content & Manage Screen Time using Circle with Disney
Moment Screen Time Tracker: Organizes and controls access for parents and children.
For Families: Common Sense Media Report: Teens Feel Addicted to Their Phones, Causing Tension at Home
Resources for families who are concerned about media use are available on the Common Sense website, including “5 Simple Steps for a Healthy Media Diet,” Family Media Agreement, video guides, and 20 Q&As that include answers to questions such as: “Is Internet addiction real?”, “What are the downsides to multitasking?”, and “How can I make sure my kid doesn’t become addicted to technology?” 
Strategies for People with Life-Destroying Small Screen Addiction
In some situations, small screen addiction has reached a point where jobs are lost, marriages are destroyed, financial resources have been squandered, and poor health and depression has set in. When any addiction reaches this point, it will be time for going beyond personal willpower and trying to use your own strength to fix yourself and break your addiction.
There are professional counselors who are able to assist people on an outpatient basis with small screen addiction. There are even residential treatment programs for internet, small screen, and gaming addicts.
In some communities there will be 12-step groups made up of recovering technology addicts who will be willing to help other addicts with their recovery. 
You may wish to read the excellent article written by Susan Ladika, which examines the numerous controversial issues related to technology addiction. The article also identifies resources for treating several forms of technology addiction.
My Personal Testimony
I am personally well acquainted with the process of recovering from various addictions having been a sugar/carb addict, tobacco addict, and pornography addict. I spent many years fighting my addictions in my own strength with varying levels of short-term success. Eventually after many failures, I came to a point where I realized that I could not win the battle in my own strength.
I learned from 12-step programs that I had to admit I was an addict, I had to admit that I could not solve my problem in my own strength, and I humbly had to turn to a power higher and greater than myself in order to overcome my addictions.
12-step groups understand the value of having a relationship with a power greater than themselves, which, in my opinion, is essential for addiction recovery.
Most 12-step recovery groups no longer specifically identify the higher power as God. They leave the decision regarding the nature of the “higher power” up to each participant. However, I found that it was my relationship with God that enabled me to permanently break out of my addictions.
In my case, the Holy Spirit of God given by Jesus Christ, has strengthened me, given me wise counsel, and brought me comfort as I worked through the process of turning away from my addictions and making the journey toward establishing a new life.
In order to move forward, I had to begin seeing the reality of my life – I was an addict.
I had to recognize some basic facts: I was helpless and poor in spirit as I stood before God. I was brokenhearted. I was being held captive. I was blind to the real cost of my addiction. I was bruised and exhausted from the self-empowered war I had been waging against my addictions for many years.
It was through the graciousness of God that my many wounds were healed, I was delivered from the tormenters of addiction, I learned to see the dysfunction of my addictions, and I was given liberty from my addictive compulsions. 
Regardless of the severity of your small screen habit, there is hope for being set free. If you want to change your life, then the resources presented in this series of four articles will provide a starting point for your transformation.
Some people can make significant progress with reclaiming their time and attention from addictive small screen apps by waking up to what tech companies are doing to enslave their minds. These people can discontinue using addictive apps and tweak their small screen usage patterns to begin the process of recovering from their out-of-control habits.
However, for many others, the patterns of out-of-control behavior are so well established that they are addicts in the full sense of the word. They can’t just stop. Their cravings and their withdrawal symptoms are so strong that they need to treat their condition in ways that are similar to those addicted to drugs, and sugar/carbohydrates.
People with food addictions must chart a narrow line of travel through the world of food. They must eat, but there are certain foods that must be avoided in order to stay emotionally sober.
Small screen addicts face a similar challenge as sugar addicts. They will have to establish hard boundaries against using certain addictive apps if they want to continue using their small screen devices at all.
They will need to set absolute time boundaries as well. In other words, unless they want to totally abandon the use of their small screens, they will need to take many precautions, and only use the devices for a short time per day and for a very select set of non-habit-forming activities.
YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and other social media sites may need to go on the list of forbidden addictive apps.
It might be easier to begin by going on a total abstinence diet with regard to small screens. In other words, take a 30-day or 90-day break from any small screen use. Some people might even need to lock away or discard the devices to avoid the temptation of going back to using the devices during this time.
A period of total abstinence from small screens can allow time to go through withdrawal and re-establish a normal life again as described by the 4-Cs of Robert Lustig.
This sabbatical will also provide an opportunity to address emotional issues that are entwined with the small screen habit. After this has been done for some time, and a reasonable level of sober living has been established, then it can be possible to make very deliberate choices about limited use of the small screens.
Isolation is one of the key features of small screen addiction. If you are a small screen addict, you probably don’t feel like you want to reach out to others for help, but that is exactly what is needed to address your addiction.
I pray to God that you will reach out to other people and to God as you do the work of becoming free from the technology that is keeping you bound to something that will never give you true happiness.
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