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Phubbing: What It Is, 18 Reasons Why We Phub & Ways to Stop It ASAP

Phubbing. Have you heard of this word? If you haven’t, you probably know what it is. Either you have done it to other people or have had it done to you.


Curious yet? Well, let’s start by talking about what phubbing actually is.

What is phubbing?

“Phubbing” is a funny-sounding word, and many people still may not have heard of it. So, let’s start by defining what exactly this term means.

Just a little bit of history here – the term was invented in May of 2012 by an Australian advertising agency. They felt the need to create a word that described the growing phenomenon of people ignoring friends in favor of using their phones when they are face-to-face.

In other words, you are “snubbing” the person(s) you are with because you are choosing to be on your phone instead. As I said earlier, the word is actually a combination of “phone” and “snubbing.”

Pretty much everyone does it these days, so what’s wrong with it? Hey, it’s just become a social norm. Well, yes, yes, it has.

But just because it’s a social norm, does that make it okay? Or good? Or helpful? There are tons of social norms that do not make our lives better. [Read: 24 truthful signs your friend doesn’t respect you or care enough]

No one likes being phubbed and yet so many do it

Many people don’t like it. And because of that, there was even a “Stop Phubbing” campaign that was developed not too long after the term was created, because it had become a real problem in relationships.

Regardless of whether you had ever heard of phubbing before, you are probably very familiar with the behavior. Whether it is you who are guilty of it – or other people you know – I’m sure you know all too well what phubbing is.

Studies have shown that around 32% of people “phub” others on a daily basis. Now, you might be thinking, “So what? What’s the big deal? Everyone does it!” Well, in some ways you are right. It has become a common cultural behavior. But does that make it good? Or right?

Some of the same studies have found that phubbing is not good for people’s mental health. I mean think about it. When someone “phubs” you, does it make you feel good? Do you feel liked or loved by that person? Probably not – because they are essentially ignoring you. And that never makes anyone feel good.

The key here is awareness. I’m not saying that all people who engage in phubbing are bad human beings. They are probably perfectly nice people. However, the problem is that they don’t know that their behavior has a negative effect on other people. [Read: The raw psychological effects of being ignored by someone you love]

Why do we phub people?

Since smartphones came out in 2007, the world has changed in so many ways. Not only do we, quite literally, have a small computer in our pocket, but it has also changed how we interact socially as well.

One of the side effects of having a smartphone with you all the time is the ability to multi-task – and not in a positive way. In social settings, having your phone in front of you at all times acts as something that can “seduce” you at any moment. It’s always a temptation to look at it.

Whether the reason is a good one – such as looking up the history of something that you are talking with a friend about or whether it’s to scroll through social media when you should be talking, it’s difficult for a lot of people to resist looking at their phones.

Sometimes phubbing happens just because your mind is wanting to go in a million different directions, or you want to stay up on the latest on social media. But there are some other serious reasons that people may engage in phubbing as well.

Some studies suggest that people who are depressed or have social anxiety are more likely to phub their friends. [Read: Social anxiety or shyness – How to decipher what exactly you feel when you’re talking to someone]

The main reasons behind phubbing

One potential reason for phubbing is that people have gotten more used to interacting with others from behind a screen instead of in person. In other words, it has become safer for them to phub someone, and has also become a bad habit.

Other reasons for phubbing could include certain personality characteristics. People who tend to be selfish and/or have narcissistic tendencies are more likely to phub other people.

Why would they do this? Because they are only thinking of themselves. They don’t think about how their behavior is making other people feel. Instead, all they care about is the fact that their needs and desires are getting fulfilled at the moment. They either don’t think about – or don’t care – how their behavior makes other people feel. [Read: Why do narcissists ignore texts and do the selfish things they do]

How does phubbing affect a relationship?

Negative behaviors that are only occasional don’t always have a long-lasting bad effect on relationships. However, if the behaviors continue and become chronic, then relationships can fall apart. It’s for this reason that we all really need to be very aware of our behaviors and how they can affect other people.

Phubbing might not be the only thing that can damage a relationship, but it is probably the symptom of larger problems.

For example, as I mentioned above, a person who is guilty of phubbing on a regular basis might be very self-oriented and not other-oriented. In other words, they only think about themselves, and not other people.

As you can imagine, if this becomes a constant theme in a relationship, the person who is less selfish will grow increasingly resentful. And as a result, it could damage or even end your relationship. [Read: Are you selfish in the relationship? 19 ways you could be a user without realizing it]

Even if phubbing is only occasional, it always sends this message: “My phone *or what is on my phone* is more important than you. I would rather interact with an inanimate object than engage with you. You are insignificant to me.”

And that is a bad message to send.

[Read: Why do people always ignore me? 20 possible reasons you need to think about]

Why phubbing is bad

Most people are not conscious of their behavior, and more importantly, the consequences of phubbing. So, it’s most likely that if you are guilty of phubbing, you might not have given it any thought as to why it’s bad. So, let’s take a look at this list, and then you’ll find out why.

1. It is rude

Let’s say you are out with a friend for dinner. You haven’t seen each other for a while, and you have a lot to catch up on. But instead of listening to you – and I mean really listening – they have their phone on the table and look at it every time it goes off.

And, on top of that, they don’t even apologize and say, “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, but I need to respond to this text/take this call because it’s super important. Then I’ll put it away.”

Instead, they just expect you to sit there and wait patiently until they are done texting or talking to whoever is on the other end of their phone. How does that make you feel?

Well, it should make you feel like crap. Because what they’re really saying with that phubbing behavior is, “You don’t matter to me as much as the other person on my phone.” It’s just plain rude. [Read: Am I a bad friend? The bad friendship skills that push people away]

2. It shows that you have no empathy

So, in the above scenario *which happens all the time*, you may or may not even be annoyed with them. Maybe you’re so guilty of phubbing too that you don’t even notice it. But you should. Because it’s not thinking about the other person.

Hey, if they are spending time with you in person, it’s usually because they want to be with you and talk to YOU. And if you’re ignoring them, then you are not seeing it from their point of view, which is the definition of empathy. Have some respect and empathy for the person you’re with and stop phubbing. Is your Instagram feed so much more important than the person sitting in front of you? [Read: How to be more empathetic and 16 steps to make anyone feel heard and understood]

3. It shows you value technology over people

You might not even be talking to someone else at the other end of your phone. You might just be surfing the internet or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.

Either way, the outcome is the same – you are not paying attention to the person you’re with. You’re valuing technology more than the person who has graced you with their presence.

4. You lose your social skills

If you don’t use it, you lose it. We all know that’s true of a lot of things like, say, your muscles. The more you work out, the bigger they get.

The same is true of anything – even social skills. The more you resort to “communicating” through technology and not face-to-face, the worse you’ll get at it. [Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 16 steps to a way better love]

5. No one likes it

I know, I know, many people will say they really don’t care and that it’s just normal for someone to be phubbing.

But come on, people! Be honest. Do you like to be ignored by other people? I know I don’t! I deserve people’s attention and respect. And so, I expect it from them.

I have literally stopped hanging out with some friends because of their phubbing habits. It’s awful.

6. It disconnects people

How do you expect to have good, quality relationships with people if you don’t really connect with them face-to-face? You can’t. It will only lead to more and more disconnection from our fellow human beings.

You can’t have a great relationship with someone when you spend 99% of your time on the phone when you’re together. You just can’t. [Read: Selfish people – 20 ways to spot and stop them from hurting you]

7. It decreases relationship satisfaction

Whether it’s a friendship, romance, or marriage, there is evidence that phubbing makes people less happy in their relationships. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Relationships are supposed to be built on love and respect. And phubbing conveys none of that.

Because phubbing means you are giving less attention to the person you are with, this automatically makes people more upset with the people in their lives – regardless of the type of relationship.

8. It lowers the quality of your interactions with people

Back in the “old days” *before the emergence of the internet and cell phones*, people didn’t have a phubbing problem. If they were together with another person, there was no choice but to talk and interact with them, because there were no competing distractions.

Think about all the great conversations you might be missing out on if you are always phubbing other people. You could get to know them better, or talk about interesting topics and have a great debate! This isn’t possible when all you are doing is looking at your phone. [Read: How to hold a conversation and make people love talking to you]

How to stop phubbing

I hope by now that you are at least a little horrified by reading this. Whether you’re the one guilty of constant phubbing, or you’re surrounded by people who do it, you *and they* can stop.

It just takes a little effort. So here are some tips for how to stop phubbing.

1. When you’re with someone – anyone – keep your phone in your purse or pocket

I know it will probably be hard for you to do this if you have the habit of keeping it out 24/7. But really, it’s not that difficult. Just don’t take it out! Period. Simple. End of story. You can do it. I know you can!

2. Never, ever have your phone nearby during meal times

Let’s say you have a family or roommates that you eat with. Don’t bring your phone to the table.

Leave it in your bedroom or somewhere else. Have everyone in the house do it so that you are all phone-free and won’t be tempted to engage in phubbing. [Read: Selfishness in relationships – 15 tips to do the right thing]

3. Have self-control

I know it’s difficult to break habits. Anyone who has tried to lose weight and work out more knows that! But anything – even phubbing – can be stopped. But it all starts with you. You just have to monitor your behavior and stop yourself.

4. Hold yourself accountable

This goes hand in hand with having self-control. You need to develop an awareness of how and when *and how often* you use your phone when you’re with other people. You have to be conscious of your habits, and hold yourself accountable for your actions.

5. Have others hold you accountable

If you’re not so good at holding yourself accountable, then enlist the help of your friends and family. Tell them you’re trying to stop phubbing, and that they should too. It should be a team effort.

If everyone stops phubbing, then it won’t be tempting to look at your phone like it would otherwise, because you’re all in it together. [Read: How to change your life – 12 easy hacks for a dramatic life shift]

6. Have consequences when you are phubbing

You can either make your own personal consequences, or you can create some between you and your friends.

For example, you could make an agreement that every time you *or one of your friends* phubs the other person, then you have to pay for the next meal in a restaurant. Or you could make yourselves put a dollar in a jar every time you do it. Get creative! [Read: 15 cellphone rules every couple should follow to build trust]

7. Create a zone where no phones are allowed

If you have “no-phone zones,” then you and the people you are with will not be tempted to phub. Instead, it will just be understood that when you are in these zones, phones are off-limits. This could be at the dinner table, in the car, or at a restaurant – wherever you all agree upon.

8. Talk to others about how phubbing makes you feel

Many times, most people don’t communicate with each other about their feelings. They may just assume that others automatically know what they are feeling, so they don’t talk about it.

But it’s important to have a conversation with other people and tell them how phubbing makes you feel. Then, you can all come to an agreement and make a plan to stop doing it.

9. Turn off notifications on your phone *or silence it*

It’s very tempting to reach for your phone every time you hear a text come in, or a notification of a message on social media. Of course, it makes you curious, or even excited, to hear that someone is thinking of you and sent you a message.

But what about the person in front of you face-to-face? Turning off notifications or putting your phone on silence will help you stop phubbing.

[Read: 12 signs you’re the selfish one in your relationship]

I know that phubbing has become the norm, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t you think it’s time that you be the better person and start modeling good behavior for others? Trust me, it will be worth it.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...