Smartphones have become such an integral part of our lives that nobody even notices the signs of addiction. There is a pre-formed notion in people’s minds that alcohol or substance abuse is the most common form of addiction that most teens get into.
However, there have been a number of researches and studies that shed light on how smartphone usage affects both the behavior as well as brain activity of young kids and lead to addiction, depression and anxiety.
Teenage Addiction to Cell Phones – Some Stats
According to a recent study conducted on how teens and even parents use social media, it was found that
- 72% of teens have the urge to immediately respond to social media notifications or messages and 78% check their phones almost every hour.
- Half of the teens out of the 620 that were interviewed felt they were addicted to their smartphones, and
- 59% of the parents also affirmed that their kids have a hard time putting their phone down even while eating or driving across the street.
- According to 77% parents, their kids get distracted when using smart phones and don’t pay attention to conversations, while
- 36% have daily arguments with their teens about it.
What is Smartphone Addiction and why is it Bad?
Being too attached to your smartphones can “numb the senses”, according to Dr. Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at the Lancaster University. Researchers and experts around the world agree on the fact that being too addicted to smartphones means you have an outlet and excuse to not face the world or your problems and hide behind a screen. This occupies your senses and mind, leading to lowered enthusiasm, smaller attention span, limited creativity as well as sleep deprivation and stress.
In his study, Dr. Larry Rosen, Professor Emeritus and Past Chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, highlights the impact of smartphone addiction on teens and adolescents. According to Dr. Rosen, “Three quarters of teenagers have their smartphone next to the bed, and about half of them get up at night to check their phones. If you don’t sleep well, it affects your ability to remember things, it affects your ability to learn, it affects your ability to think clearly; your brain needs to time flush out the junk it accumulates during the day.”
But that’s not all. What you might think is an obsession for technology or a trend that all teenagers follow can quickly turn into a serious matter in a span of few days. According to experts, smartphone addiction, also called nomophobia, springs from ‘internet usage disorder’ – a condition where people suffer from anxiety and hyperventilation if the Internet is removed from their lives. Smartphones trigger this disorder by being a constant source of Internet, and the changes it brings in your brain are similar to those that happen to people who are addicted to substances like cocaine.
The Early Signs of Cell Phone Addiction in Teenagers
When it comes to the word addiction, the first thing that comes to mind is maybe alcohol or drugs. However, digital world and its impact has taken over the lives of youngsters so much that they end up devoting a majority of their time surfing on the web and texting on the internet. Plus, there is a cruel and heartless world out there – so many teenagers worldwide fall prey to cyber bullies and privacy invasion incidents every year and this leads to horrific cases of depression and even suicide.
So when do you decide that this is turning into a problem? How do you draw the line between healthy smartphone usage and addiction? According to Holland Hais, a business consultant who has recently penned the book “Consciously Connecting: A Simple Process to Reconnect in the Disconnected World”, Addiction to technology can happen to anybody. “If you teens would prefer staying indoors alone gaming instead of going out to the movies, you may have a problem.”
Do you suspect that your teen too is perhaps going through smartphone addiction? Here are some of the first signs that you may notice:
• Being constantly on the phone, even while driving, eating or out on the street
• Getting anxious when the phone is not available or Internet is down
• Depression and anxiety
• Withdrawal from daily activities or disinterest in things that they liked doing before
• Change in eating and sleeping patterns
• Fatigue and laziness all the time
• Being irritable all the time
• Difficulty in paying attention
• Weight loss
• Losing interest in social activities, communication and interaction
• Frequent headaches and sore neck
• Checking phone even if it hasn’t been ringing or vibrating (also called phantom vibration syndrome)
Simple Test to Find if Your Teen is Addicted to Smartphones
Dr. Mark Griffith, Professor of Gambling Studies published a paper on “Adolescent mobile phone addiction: A cause for concern,” where he highlights that it is difficult to determine the point that parents can use as a guideline to decide whether or not their teen is addicted to smartphones.
He devised a simple set of questions that parents as well as young adolescents can use to ascertain just how addicted they are to their cell phones. If 6 or more of these warning statements are true for your teen, then you might be looking at a problem. These include:
1. If they get distracted at school or work because of their phone continuously;
2. Whether they thought their smartphone is one of the most essential things they have;
3. If they get angry/agitated/irritated if they don’t get to use the phone or check notifications immediately;
4. If they are having frequent arguments with their friends, family or spouse on smartphone usage;
5. How they don’t have any time for other activities because they are too engrossed on their phones;
6. Whether they get a strong desire and urge to check the phone if it’s not in reach;
7. Whether they have noticed a pattern on how their smartphone usage has increased over the months;
8. If they end up lying when someone asks them how long they have been using their phone;
9. If their phone can lift up their spirits and change their mood;
10. If they get back to the same pattern of over-using the phone even after they have tried limiting it.
According to Dr. Griffith, the key difference between excessive usage of smartphones and an addiction is that the former comes with healthy enthusiasm that adds to life and the later does not.
Are there any Implications of Limiting Smartphone Use Suddenly?
Cutting off all smartphone usage and constantly telling your teen to put their phone away is never going to work. In the digital age of today when the world is shrinking every second, it is important to be connected in cyber space and Internet usage cannot be avoided altogether. Technology surrounds every phase of our life – from food, to entertainment, to work and even classrooms. According to Dr. Cooper’s research, “potential and sudden withdrawal from smartphones can be even more detrimental.”
Simple Solutions for Teenage Addiction to Smartphones
What’s needed is a sense of balance, and that has to come by your teen agreeing and accepting that they are getting a bit too attached to their smartphone than normal. If you notice that your teen’s behavior is going beyond the usual need for technology and there are warning signs that point towards dangerous addiction to technology, here are a few simple remedies that you can try and help them with:
• Start with taking small breaks in using the smartphone as a family. Either designate a few hours a day or during the weekend when nobody will be using their smartphone unless it is for emergency calls. Also encourage your teens to go out with friends or invite them over for more in-person conversations and face-to-face encounters instead of messaging and Whatsapp discussions.
• Ban phones where it can become a potential threat to your safety. For example, during driving. Make sure to set a positive example by not using the phone yourself when driving or out on a family gathering.
• Make rules of not using phones at specific times. For example during dinner that you have as a family together. Encourage everyone to put their phones on silent when eating together and talk to each other.
• Define ‘no-smartphone’ zones in your home. These can be areas like the dining room, or the bathrooms. You can also allow smartphone usage in public areas of the home only and not in private rooms like the bathroom or bedroom after certain designated hours.
• Add more physical activities and exercises to your teen’s routine. Encourage them to participate in some sports, become a part of a reading club, theatre activity or musical gig – whatever they enjoy. Also, try and do exercises and workouts as a family and ask your teen to join you. According to Dr. Cooper, ““Exercise boosts natural ‘feel-good’ endorphins that relieve stress and depression symptoms that come from dependence on smartphones”
• Get professional help. Cognitive behavior therapy and counselors can help teens overcome their addiction to Internet and smartphones. They can also connect with them on a personal level instead of parents imposing strict rules, which sometime backfire and start affecting your relationship with your teen.
Don’t take smartphone addiction lightly or take it as a joke – being obsessed with your phone can lead to disastrous consequences if it isn’t addressed in due time.