By Ian Sherr
Ican’t stay off my phone. And I’m afraid it’s hurting my 2-year-old son.
Sometimes it’s a breaking news story that draws me in, other times it’s boredom. Whatever it is, this device in my hands â€” which gives me access to nearly all human knowledge plus all the cat videos I could ever want â€” is constantly calling for my attention.
Setting boundaries with my smartphone hasn’t been easy. I’ll sometimes sneak a quick glance at headlines when I’m in line at the grocery store or when we’re waiting to see our son’s pediatrician. Once I tapped on an alert during a religious service.
My wife, Laura, first realized I would have a problem when she saw my excitement ahead of Apple‘s iPhone launch in 2007. For years, she’s told me I’m being rude when I look at my phone. Now we talk about whether my behavior is affecting our toddler, Theodore.
“I’m worried that in the future, he’s going to feel like we weren’t active parents,” she says. “It’s just very frustrating.”
I’m not alone in my screen addiction. The average US consumer now spends about five hours a day on a mobile device, according to data analytics firm Flurry. That number skews even higher for young adults. Nearly 40 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are online “almost constantly,” the Pew Research Center found, and nine times out of 10 they’re using a mobile device.
Our brains make us do it.
That’s because all those mobile alerts, notifications and online search results give us a sense of reward and surprise whenever we see them cross that little screen. This feeling triggers the brain to produce dopamine, the chemical that causes us to seek out food, sex and drugs â€” and leads to addictive behavior. Dopamine is at its most stimulating when the rewards come on an unpredictable schedule, just like phone alerts. All of which means there are plenty of new parents spending too much time staring at their phones. Parents like me.
That raises a question: How does our device addiction affect the adorable little sponges we’re rearing? Theodore already picks up random objects, holds them to his ear and says, “Hello!”
I set out to learn the answer.