For teenagers, it's a given that using smartphones is convenient. How else would they show their friends about this witty thing they saw or heard? With the advent of apps like Snapchat or Vine, the younger generation has an accessible platform to share moments with friends.

However, getting attached to the device to the point of obsession is unhealthy, a new study has revealed. Apparently, heavy smartphone use may increase the chances of developing anxiety or depression among youngsters.

Lead author Alejandro Lleras said there is a long history for public technophobia, or the fear of new technologies, in society.

"This fear of new technology happened with televisions, video games and most recently, smartphones," said Lleras.

In the new study, he and his colleagues examined more than 300 college-aged students and asked them to answer a questionnaire which focused on addressing their mental health, amount of smartphone and Internet use, and their motivations for turning off their device.

The team's goal was to see if addictive and self-destructive behaviors with Internet and smartphone use are related to mental health. One of the questions in the study was this: "Do you think that your academic or work performance has been negatively affected by your cell phone use?"

In the end, those who self-reported as having really addictive style behaviors toward smartphones and the Internet scored higher on anxiety and depression scales, Lleras said.

Despite the findings, the team did not find any link between smartphone or Internet use and negative mental health outcomes among study participants who said they used these technologies to escape from boredom.

With that, researchers said the motivation for going online is a crucial factor in associating technology to anxiety and depression.

"The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored," said Lleras. "This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology."

In a follow-up study, Lleras tested the role of possessing -- but not using -- a smartphone during stressful situations. Participants who were allowed to keep their smartphones using an experimental stressful situation were less likely to be negatively affected by stress compared with those who do not have their phones.

"Having access to a phone seemed to allow that group to resist or to be less sensitive to the stress manipulation," said Lleras.

The benefit was short-lived, but it still suggested that smartphones may serve as a comfort item during stressful and anxiety-inducing moments. Additionally, the relationship between motivations for smartphone or Internet use requires further investigation, Lleras said.

Meanwhile, Lleras said breaking addictive behaviors toward technology may provide an important supplemental treatment for addressing mental health issues. What's more, the fear of using smartphones or the Internet should be addressed.

"We shouldn't be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones," assured Lleras.

The team's findings are featured in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Photo : Laura Van Nieuwenborgh | Flickr

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