The 5 Stages of Screen Time Grief

If you haven’t discovered the Screen Time app that Apple has built into iPhones over the last year, you are missing out on some entertaining insight. But be forewarned: having your smartphone stare back at you with the cold hard facts can be difficult to accept.

To help with that, here are the 5 stages of Screen Time Grief you are likely to experience:


“There’s no way this is true!”

“This app doesn’t work right.”

“Who else has been using my phone?”

It’s difficult to accept that those quick glances between conversations, in the car, and in the bathroom have really started to add up. Not to mention your morning and evening news consumption and Facebook stalking. Seeing a large chunk of your life in an easy-to-read infographic is jarring and your first reaction will be denial. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.


“How could I let this happen?”

“It isn’t supposed to be this way?”

“What else am I missing?”

It’s a lot to take in when you realize that the 25 cumulative hours you spent on a screen last week constitutes a FULL DAY OF NOTHING. It is easy to start wondering what else has been slowly stolen from you over time. You start to question why no one loved you enough to tell you how much time you were spending on a screen. Rest assured, they would have if they weren’t also fighting off a nasty screen habit as well.

You look at other people’s screen time app for consolation but find none there. Despair begins to set in, but take heart!: despair is not something to ignore and wish away, in fact, it is a natural part of the process toward change, acceptance, and planning a vacation to one of the last remaining places without cell phone service.


You choose to fight back by swearing off technology in one fell swoop. You try to remember which drawer you put your RAZR in back in 2004. You tell your friends to come over instead of texting. You revisit the tin-can-and-string idea from childhood. Ultimately, you just try to see how long you can go without reading a push notification.

You don’t think you’ve ever seen a monk with a smartphone and they seem to be happy, right?


You’ve never seen a monk carry around so much anger.

You realize that monasticism is basically impossible in 2019 the first time you want to “get an Uber” or “track your children" or “find out what the President is thinking about” and your insides burn. You feel trapped by the frustration and the lack of options.

You can’t take that anger out on the phone (that would be expensive AND crazy), so you begin looking for a safe place to direct it. You get mad at Mark Zuckerberg, the ghost of Steve Jobs, the fast-talking guy at the AT&T store and, most intensely, at ‘society’.

Eventually, enough anger dissipates that you see the person you should really be mad at is the one in the mirror. Well, technically, the one in the camera app with the front-facing camera selected (you haven’t used a mirror since June 2017).

This is the toughest realization yet, but it has the most potential to move you on toward…


After the denial, despair, and anger, you are ready to admit defeat and move forward. Acceptance is tricky, though, because you now have a choice to make: either continue to watch that usage number grow naturally or make some serious changes. After all, Apple didn’t become the universe’s first trillion dollar company just to let your eyeballs bounce over to real life again.

The good news is that acceptance may give us a sober-minded opportunity to pull some of that time back into the ‘real life’ column. There is hope? -> There is hope!

For all of the emotions it stirs up, Screen Time can give us a tangible desire to make some changes we didn’t even know we needed to make. Check out the follow-up to this post for practical ways you can turn your grief into growth: Giving Pause: A Technology Fast that Works.


I’m a pastoral counselor in Oxford and Tupelo, MS. I help people every day work through all sorts of issues, wounds, and problems - even the ones that are on a screen.

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