We’re surrounded. There’s no escape. Smart Phone Zombies are everywhere. In fact, you’re probably one yourself. Let’s face it – most of us are. Smart Phone Zombies – people who stare into their phones in a hypnotic state – are barely aware of life going on around them. Many people even believe that cell phones inhibit our ability to focus and pay attention. So, how can we slay the zombie within and reclaim our focus? More importantly, how can we help our children do it?
In her podcast, Your Attention didn’t Collapse – It Was Stolen, Barry Weiss states that in general, Americans spend more than three hours a day staring into their phones, and teenagers weigh in at about seven hours.
“What’s troubling is that consistently – in survey after survey, and study after study – people say they want to be looking at their screens much less,” she said. “They just cannot look away.”
Her guest, Johann Hari, interviewed more than 200 experts when writing his book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again. Hari says every technology that comes along changes society to some degree in negative and positive ways. When it comes to smartphone use, he believes we need to take back control.
“We are living in an environment that is profoundly degrading our attention,” he said. “There are lots of things we can do as isolated individuals to defend ourselves to some degree, but the primary thing…is to actually take on these forces that are doing this to us.”
The Focus Factor
Studies indicate that when we’re focusing on something but get interrupted, it takes, on average, 23 minutes to regain our focus. This means that if your son reads and responds to a text while writing an essay or studying, it takes about 23 minutes for his brain to get back on track. Yet the lure is always there. Our smartphones are our constant companions, and they’ve turned us into full-fledged Smart Phone Zombies.
What does this mean for our kids, and how can we get them to remain focused on their studies? Jason Robinovitz, Chief Operating Officer at Score At The Top Learning Centers & Schools, says parents should start by encouraging their children to step away from their phones the night before an important test like the SAT or ACT.
“Students should put their phones away for the night and not look at them until after taking the test,” he said. “Each use of the phone steals a bit of their attention and, by putting it away the night before a test, they’re storing focus that will be used for the test – and not on apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram.”
Smart Phone Zombie Syndrome
Chances are, if you look up from your phone right now – you’ll see Smart Phone Zombies everywhere around you. Families in restaurants scroll through their phones…our kids get together and spend much of their time looking at TikTok or Snapchat instead of interacting and making eye contact with one another… People even check their phones at stoplights (or worse yet – while driving). Many of us even lose sleep from exposing ourselves to artificial light just before bedtime. The more we scroll, the more we succumb to Smart Phone Zombie Syndrome.
According to a survey by reviews.org, 70% of Americans check their phones within five minutes of receiving a notification, and 74% of us feel uneasy leaving our phones at home. Forty-eight percent of Americans feel a sense of panic when their phone batteries go below 20 percent, and 53% indicate that their cell phone would be the first possession they’d save from a fire or other disaster.
Hari says there’s a good reason: the apps on our phones are specifically designed to get – and keep – our attention. Every time we open a social media app, it makes money. And every time we post about something or search the internet, the information is scanned and sorted by sophisticated algorithms that build profiles about us.
“Every time you pick up your phone, Facebook makes more money, or TikTok…or Snapchat…,” he said. “All of this algorithmic genius – all of this engineering power – is geared absolutely and entirely toward one thing: to take as much of your attention as they possibly can… These apps want you to scroll, and scroll, and scroll.”
Smart Phones and Our Kids
Smartphones have become so mainstream that even most toddlers are proficient at scrolling, playing games, and calling grandma and grandpa. According to a 2019 report by Common Sense Media, 69% of American children have their own smartphone by age 12. A 2016 report showed that 50% of teens feel addicted to their smartphones.
Does this mean we’re all destined to remain Smart Phone Zombies in a trance-like state of reality? Not necessarily. There are strategies we can use to get ourselves – and our kids – back into focus.
Earning Privileges, Setting Limits
We’ve become so accustomed to smartphones and unlimited data that most of us take them for granted. However, children and teens should understand that having their own cell phone isn’t a right or entitlement – it’s a privilege. And like all privileges – their cell phones must be earned.
Set limits for your family for screen time, and discuss appropriate – and inappropriate – use of phones and social media. Practice what you preach by modeling healthy cell phone use. Make a point to step away from your phone throughout the day – especially during family time. For example, you might have rules that dictate no cell phones at the dinner table…no phones in your child’s bedroom overnight…and no phones until homework is done. Make time for books, art, and other media that aren’t electronic.
Come up with a set of guidelines and limits that work for you and your family, and make sure your children understand that privileges can be revoked if they’re not earned.
Timed Lock Boxes
Let’s face it – the lure of our phones can be hard to resist. When we hear that text notification…see a new post on Instagram…hear that ring…it awakens our inner zombie and we feel compelled to respond. Now.
One way to wean ourselves and our kids from the habit is by removing the temptation. Timed lock boxes, like KSafe, allow you to lock your phone inside for a specified amount of time. You set the timer, and the safe stays locked until the timer counts down to zero.
Locking our phones away shouldn’t be considered a punishment. Instead, it’s a positive action designed to help us avoid temptation, regain our focus, and enjoy valuable time away from the small screens. You can make it an even more positive experience by planning fun activities and family time, and by seeing how much you can accomplish while your device is locked away.
Taking Back Control
There’s no doubt about it – smartphones are changing the way we interact with the world and with each other. The good news? Technology and smartphones – when used properly – are powerful in a positive way. Smartphones give us instant access to people, news, and entertainment. We literally have the power of the world wide web in the palm of our hands. It’s up to us, though, to make sure it’s not too much of a good thing. Smart Phone Zombie Syndrome can be cured.
According to Hari, the first step is to regain control of our minds.
“It requires a profound shift of consciousness,” he said. “We need an attention movement that raises people’s consciousness, just like the feminist movement did… An attention movement to defend our – and our children's – minds.”
Join the Score at the Top Smart Phone Zombie Challenge
Are you and your kids up for a challenge? Join Score at The Top in our Smart Phone Zombie Challenge!
- Have your children commit to putting away their cell phones the night before a test – especially an important one like the SAT or ACT – and not using it until after they take the test.
- Have everyone in your family commit to putting away their phones for at least two hours each day for one week.
Use a timed lockbox, sheer willpower, or simply turn your phone off to make it happen!
Keep us posted on your child’s progress (and your own!) and share your tips, challenges, and successes on our Facebook page.
You’ve got this!
For more information, or to schedule personalized tutoring, test prep, or college advisement consultation, contact Score at the Top.