A poll has found that half of U.S. teens report feeling heavily dependent on their mobile devices, while more than half of parents know about such addiction of their teens. How do you tell if your kid is actually smartphone-obsessed?
James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, the nonprofit agency initiating the study, highlighted the ways mobile device use can alter family interactions.
“[P]roblematic media use can negatively affect children’s development and that multitasking can harm learning and performance,” he warned.
Curbing the problem starts with identifying its roots. Common Sense Media’s parenting editor Caroline Knorr said that telltale signs are present: children being happy only when they are using their cell phone, or turning upset because their phone is getting in the way of completing other activities.
“There are a lot of internet sites that promise help for all kinds of technology addictions, but the best way to proceed if you're feeling there is a problem — start with your doctor who can give an assessment,” Knorr told Mashable.
According to psychiatry professor Dr. David Greenfield of the University of Connecticut, only a slim percentage of people qualify as addicted, but many people, including kids, overuse their smartphones.
The line between overuse and addiction is gray, but there are signals that one is moving into addiction territory: one can’t stop using her smartphone even with an impending threat to her life, or the device can’t be left behind even during a school affair or work meeting.
“[If] you can’t help being on it even when you know you shouldn’t be, that loss of control is the hallmark of an addiction,” he explained to Time.
Other warning signs include withdrawal, anxiety, irritability, or feeling uncomfortable when one’s phone isn’t within reach. A child being on the phone more and more — an increasing desire to “up” one’s smartphone dose — is not unlike substance abusers building up tolerance to alcohol or drugs.
Furthermore, the internet is likened to “the world’s largest slot machine,” where Greenfield said that excitement and anticipating build up when one checks his or her email or visit a favorite social site. Pleasure chemicals burst in one’s brain, driving the ever increasing use of phones.
Other common signs include neglecting spending time with family and friends, changes in sleep patterns (artificial light from phones damage sleep hormone signals), foregoing healthy activities such as walking and socializing, difficulties relating to other kids and people, stress on fingers and the body and behavioral issues such as delinquency.
For digital detox specialist Holland Haiis, it is important to address a current or looming addiction by establishing limits on internet surfing. Posting on social media, for instance, should be kept to three to five times a week, while taking a walk or exercise should be encouraged in case one has the urge to check a mobile device.
Because if a teen often chooses gaming indoors over meeting friends for burgers or the movies, there is certainly a problem at hand.
Photo: Val Wroblewski | Flickr