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Commentary: It's bad to be addicted to your smartphone, but worse in front of your kids

Kris Kerzman Photo courtesy Britta Trygstad

A couple weeks ago, as part of my job as human push notification and professional copy-and-paster for our media company's websites, I noticed one of our national stories gaining some serious traffic.

It's a story about a company that sells and rents neoprene sleeves to schools and performance venues. When you enter a place that's using them, you put your phone into the sleeve, which is then locked so you can't use it there. You keep the sleeved phone, which is then unlocked when you leave.

I was intrigued. We run stories about smartphones and even smartphone addiction often, and they don't always do well; this one, maybe, was doing well because it mentions smartphone use in schools, I thought.

I figured I'd feed that curiosity and post a simple poll question with the story: "Do you think smartphone addiction is a serious problem?" The response was overwhelming. Over the course of two days with the story, the poll received nearly 4,000 responses, which is a lot (it also was on our homepage), and nearly 90 percent of them responded "yes."

You can count me with those concerned, and if it's solutions you're looking for, I can tell you that there's one foolproof way to reduce smartphone addiction.

Just put the damn thing down.

It was starting to get a bit much for me about a year ago, and it came by way of raising our kids. We try our best to keep them off screens so, if they're doing their part, they're running around making mischief, building things with Magnet Blocks, or pretending to be dragons. They're looking to me to be a playmate, or show me a game, or fix their lightsaber, or check out their latest drawing ... and here I am, eagerly hitting refresh on my hot Reddit post.

I started by deleting the Facebook app from my phone, and it was one of the best ideas I've ever had. I've also choked back my push notifications, which can draw you into your apps without you being fully conscious of it. I've also tried only opening my phone by first declaring what I want to do when I'm in there, which helps prevent a lot of idle swiping.

We banned phones from the dinner table. When one of us has something to tell the other, my wife and I will often turn off our phone, put it face down and actively listen.

I try to find alternate activities, especially around or with the kids, like putting the smartphone down and picking up a book to make the point that, no, you don't need a smartphone to fill all your down time.

And lastly, of course, is this: kids create lots of excuses to do things together. Draw and color. Build a tower. Drive cars around the living room. Build a blanket fort. Play a board game. It's not always as easy to initiate as opening your phone but, believe me, it beats the hell out of anything you'll find on Twitter.

You know, I've toyed with the idea of ditching my smartphone, and I may someday do it yet. But I haven't. They're useful and powerful, plus all my Star Realms games are there. Sharing photos with my family, seeing their photos and looking at them with my kids ... that's good, too.

But the bad stuff can catch up to the good stuff pretty quickly and if you're concerned about being addicted to your smartphone, remember this: it's not the boss of you.

It's not. The boss. Of you.

Kris Kerzman is audience engagement specialist for Forum Communications and father to 6-year-old Edith and 1-year-old Anton. He can be reached at kkerzman@forumcomm.com.

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