By Kylie Kaden 

Let’s be honest. Are you the type who, blurry eyed, reaches for your phone first thing in the morning? Has your mobile become a bit of a gap-fill in your day – a crutch you turn to in the mundane in-between moments? We’ve heard the evils of overusing technology before, but alarming new research has clinically proven exactly ‘when’ using technology is most detrimental to our brains, and exactly ‘how’ it negatively impacts our relationships with our kids.    


Smartphones: most of us are lost without one, relying heavily on our beloved mobiles to keep connected, capture memories, and organise our hectic lives – in fact, you’re probably reading this article on one right now to fill a stolen moment at a bus stop or before a meeting begins.  

Many of us spend thousands of hours scrolling ‘social’ media per year (yes, we could read hundreds of books in that time – imagine!). With all that ‘socialising’, and if happiness is invariably linked to our sense of connection with others, we should be happy, right? Yet as a community, we are lonelier than ever.  

In fact, research shows a direct correlation between increased levels of depression, anxiety and suicide and social media usage.  

Chelsea Pottenger, director of EQ Consulting and mental health ambassador for R u Ok? recently published alarming results after a three-year study, indicating a staggering 90% of adults check their phone as their first priority each morning.  

Scanning the news or Facebook before beginning your busy day seems harmless, but the science behind it says otherwise. This damaging trend is kicking our minds into a wave of high stress from the moment we wake, causing feelings of paranoia, worry, fear, anger and irritability – all of which are connected to a weakened immune system. In short, the practice is making us sick. 

Pottenger explains that the brain’s malleability after sleep heightens the importance of how we chose to spend those first precious moments of our day. It is these first transitional theta brain waves that are vital to becoming more emotionally intelligent, creative and adept at problem-solving.  Like skipping breakfast, by choosing a digitalised dose of reality first thing, we are skipping this important phase.  

No one is suggesting we abandon technology, but smarter use of our smart-phones may lessen the risk of harm to our wellbeing, and relationships. 

How to change your life in 8 Minutes 

It sounds like a cheap infomercial, yet Pottenger’s research indicates the choice we make during this short window is clinically proven to have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.  By delaying our morning technology hit and owning the first eight minutes of our day we can rewire our brain.  

Healthy habits for 2019 can start by simply removing phones from the bedroom, and instead, rise and shine by:  

  • stretching to remove the body of inflammation, 
  • meditation, or if that’s not your thing, simply relaxing and planning your day with a cup of tea or a book in a favourite sunlit spot. This small step can lead to a more positive mindset all day.  
  • place a cork-board near your bedside displaying photos, memories, and reminders of your personal priorities or planned holidays so you’re hit with a dose of inspiration when you wake. Tip: If you’re stuck for ideas, Pottenger has created the new EQ Minds Vision Board Program, which is an online seven-day program (for those over 12 years) featuring a series of podcasts and guides to help you become more mindful and help you make positive changes and reach your goals.   
  • practice a few minutes of gratitude each morning can also strengthen the area of the brain that makes you more resilient. Think of what you can do for others during the day.  

It’s not just these first twilight hours after sleep that have been plagued by digital devices. A similar study at Nottingham Trent University, found that the average amount of time people aged 18-33 check their phone is an astounding 85 times per day.  

Constant phone checking can suppress our ability to tune in with others and impact on relationships long term. Pottenger states we need to use social technology to support social interaction – not undermine it.  This is particularly important for parents.  

We’ve all experienced the challenge of making a phone-call, only to have our (previously content) child demand our sudden, urgent attention. Young children need constant validation from their caregivers to form strong attachments, and when they are forced to compete with our phones, they try to engage with us again (often through escalating behaviour). 

Children whose parents use phones frequently while they’re with them show increased levels of distress, lower positive emotion, lower exploration and engagement with their toys and have less developed emotional recovery.   

Strategies to instil boundaries around phone usage and encourage the best chance of engaging with our children effectively include: 

  • Keep your phone out of sight when having meaningful conversations with your family. Even holding your phone makes those you are talking to feel less important to you, which reduces empathy and trust in the parent/child relationship.  
  • Dock your devices at night at a charging station away from bedrooms – this goes for both you and your children.  While their devices recharge at night, so do our brains. Sell the strategy to your children: the phones wake up with 100% battery, we wake up with 100% brain on.  
  • Set boundaries around your phone usage by introducing tech free Sundays and, as scary as it sounds, seek out holidays without wi-fi and go ‘off-grid’ entirely.   
  • Silence phones when socialising and engage with who you are spending time with – if you do have to return a call, you’ll look far more important than if you’d answered immediately.  
  • Make choices that allow you to savour the moment – not record it. Instead of filming your child’s entire concert (worrying about the best angle) be present and enjoy the moment.  
  • Designate the car as a phone-free zone – research shows car trips are a great opportunity to talk to older kids as you are not face-to-face, so it is less confrontational.  
  • Value conversation between family and friends by modelling device-free conversations. Pottenger suggest the ‘phone-stacking’ game: while at restaurants, place your phones in a pile during dinner – the first person to remove their phone has to pay! 

Technology offers a fantastic way to enhance our lives and stay connected with others, but, just like salt and sugar in a balanced diet, our intake needs to be managed. 

We love our phones, and changing habits is hard. Before we reach for another phone-check, consider this – do we really need to be across every moment-to-moment update from the curated lives of our followers (most of whom we’d hide from if seen in real life) while our children compete for our attention? Do we need to pull out our phone from the we wake, or the second nothing better is happening?  Or can we try a little harder to simply be mindful of what’s in front of us in the moment, during this beautiful thing we call life.  

After all, it’s during those in-between moments – when people look eye to eye, not profile to profile, that relationships are forged and fostered.  

Perhaps this alarming research will finally make us resist the urge to be digitally entertained every waking moment – and especially the first precious twilight ones.  

Our brains, and our children will thank us for it.   

By Kylie Kaden BSSc Psych- Hons.  Read more about Chelsea Pottenger at ​