Two hours or less a day. That’s the recommended screen time part of our 5-2-1-0 program. But many of us spend even more time on our phones daily. In fact, Americans spend an average of 5.4 hours on their cell phones daily.
While you’re trying to scale back on the time spent on your phone, you may have forgotten one important thing: cell phone safety. Keep your family safe—both physically and mentally—as you scroll with these 10 cell phone safety tips.
- Turn off location sharing.
Location settings come in handy when you’re navigating a new city or searching for driving directions. But they also allow others to get and see information on where you’re at or where you’re going. You can turn off location settings for individual apps within your settings or turn your phone on “Airplane Mode” temporarily to disable tracking features. This is especially important for your kids and teens to be aware of.
- Disinfect often.
COVID-19 shined a brighter light on the importance of cleaning all frequently used surfaces on appliances and other tech, like your cell phone. Just think of how often you touch your phone, hands unwashed, or have it up to your ear where face oils, makeup, and other buildup can transfer. There are a few ways you can eliminate germs from your phone. Use disinfectant wipes with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a similar spray on a soft cloth. Based on the material, you can use soap and water on your case, but never on your phone. Don’t let liquid get into your phone and avoid any cleaner that contains bleach. Sanitize every other day.
- Do not drive and text.
Every year, cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes. It’s easy to see how cell phone distractions are dangerous when driving. Never text, call, or browse the internet while you drive. If you must respond, ask a passenger to help or pull over to a safe location and stop the car. Many cars today have built-in sync capabilities that allow you to pair your cell phone with the car’s audio—and added features to prevent safety risks while using the technology. Use voice-activated commands to call or text, but only if you’re comfortable.
- Do not walk and text either.
Studies show that cell phone distraction while walking can cause problems, too. Trips and falls can occur when you’re not watching where you’re going. So can car accidents. Other times, you may miss street signs, crosswalk signals, doors, and walls that can cause injuries too. General rule of thumb: if you’re moving your body in any way (walking, running, driving), put the phone down to avoid distractions.
- Limit screen time to 2 hours or less.
You know the drill. If you follow our 5-2-1-0 program, you know the daily goal is two hours or less of screen time, no screen time for children under age two, and no cell phones where you sleep. Limiting your screen time has so many physical and mental health benefits. When you’re not distracted by your phone at night, you get better sleep. Better sleep also improves academics, creativity, focus, behavioral and social skills, brain health, and more. There’s also less strain on your eyes and more socialization with friends and family, which leads to a better mood and quality of life.
- Keep it private.
Only the owner of the phone should know the phone’s passcode. Having a unique passcode makes it difficult for someone to pick up your phone and scroll through apps, accounts, and private settings or do something malicious. Check the privacy settings in your apps to reduce the amount of contact info available to others. You can enable two-factor verification or a second passcode required to access your phone. Avoid storing sensitive information like account passwords on your phone, too.
- Restrict use in hazardous areas.
Heading to the beach for the week or floating on the river? Keep your phone away from water. When plugged in, make sure the chord is away from the sink or bathtub and other bodies of water to eliminate the risk of electrocution. If you work around heavy or complex equipment, like in a production facility or construction site, do not use your phone or bring it with you while working. There’s not only a risk of dropping and breaking your phone and the equipment, but there’s a higher risk of dangerous injuries while using.
- Only give your number to people you trust.
Some researchers say your phone number may now be an even stronger identifier of you than your full name. Your number can easily be entered into public records directories to pull up your address, the names of your family members, and more. It’s another step to identity theft or hacking if in the wrong hands. Hackers can use your phone number to hijack your phone and access social media accounts, payment settings, and other accounts linked to your phone number. Unless you know and trust someone, do not give them your number.
- Use virtual phone numbers to keep your number private.
If you must give a number but you don’t know or trust the person well, use a virtual or second number, like Google Voice or Grasshopper, instead. Others will never know your personal number, but you’ll be able to access their calls and texts directly from your phone through the app. This is especially helpful if you run a small business and don’t have a company line or you’re online dating or connecting with others virtually and don’t want to exchange your real number with strangers.
- Choose your apps carefully.
Want more cell phone safety tips? Learn about the dangers of distracted driving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or learn more about sanitizing your phone from the Federal Communications Commission.