Smart Phone “Addiction”: A Disturbing New Trend in Teens and Young Adults

We have all been there. We go out to dinner with a group of friends and everyone is on their smart phone. You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t look at their phone at least once. Some people are on theirs longer than others, scrolling through Facebook, checking e-mails, maybe playing a game. Others are more subtle, taking quick glances at their phones periodically, maybe checking the weather or responding to a quick text.  It could be that these people are “addicted” to their smart phones!

Smart Phone “Addiction”: A Disturbing New Trend in Teens and Young Adults
In today’s always-connected society a disturbing new trend is surfacing; smart phone addiction. And smart phone addiction is greatly increasing in teens and young adults. Photo credit: Bigstock

In today’s always-connected society a disturbing trend is surfacing. Thought not an official diagnosis in the America Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), excessive smart phone usage is starting to appear as an “addiction,” especially among teens and young adults.

A Pew Research Center report on US smart phone use in 2015 indicates that 85 percent of young adults ages 18-29 own a smart phone. For many young people, their smart phone is their ever-present partner morning, noon, and night.  A 2015 Trends in Mobility report by Bank of America found that 34 percent of young adults even sleep with their smart phones!

What is Addiction?

The current DSM (5) defines addiction as problematic pattern of engaging in an activity that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress.  This can include participating in an activity for longer time periods that originally intended. In addition an inordinate amount of time spent in the activity causes a failure to be able fulfil role obligations at work, home or school.  The participant will continue the activity despite the problems that the excessive participation in the activity causes.

For teens and young adults today, checking their smart phone is even more important than eating and sleeping. To lose access to their smart phone causes them great anxiety and distress.

Jan Hamilton, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, and Founder of Doorways, a Phoenix, Arizona, counseling center that exclusively works with teens and young adults, says that excessive smart phone is a problem we can no longer ignore. “Today’s young people are connected at the hip to their smart phones. They see their phones as an extension of themselves, and when they don’t have access to them many young people experience extreme anxiety,” she says.

Why Are Young People “Addicted” to Their Smart Phones?

Smart phones invoke intense emotions in people, says Liraz Margalit, in an article titled Why We’re Addicted to Our Smart Phones, But Not Our Tablets, 94 percent of college students report feeling troubled when they are without their smart phones. Eighty percent of students reported they felt jealous when someone else held their phones, and 70 percent indicated that they would have feelings of depression, panic and helplessness if their phones were lost or stolen.

Smartphones are designed to get us to check them repeatedly which turns into a habit. But this habit enacts a rewarding feedback loop of stimulus and response. When a person checks their Facebook page, or gets and email or text message it releases endorphins in their brain which feel good.  We get instant gratification. So we continue to check our smart phone.  But then the habit turns into a need that can cause anxiety when not fulfilled.

How Do You Know if you are “Addicted” to Your Smart Phone?

If you sleep with your smart phone right by your side; you might be addicted to your smart phone. If you find yourself checking your phone every five to 10 minutes; you might be addicted to your smart phone.  If you find yourself looking at your phone instead of doing your work assignments, or checking a social media account during activities with friends and family; you might be addicted to your smart phone.

So How Do You Get Over Smart Phone “Addiction?”

Hamilton recommends these 4 tips for teens and young adults who suspect they are “addicted” to their smart phones.

  1. Don’t sleep with your phone. As a young person sleep is essential to feeling good because you are still growing. When you sleep with your smart phone, the artificial light emitted from your phone arouses your brain and disrupts your body’s ability to fall into REM (deep, healing sleep). This lack of REM sleep affects your mood, your ability to study and retain information, our energy level and more. So shut your phone off maybe a half hour to an hour before you go to bed so you can spend the last of your day truly relaxing and preparing for sleep. 
  2. Make a specific time of day “no phone time.” For example, many families have decided that dinner time or homework time is family time, not phone time. 
  3. Focus on the people you are with. When you are at a family outing keep your phone on silent and tucked away. Take the time to notice the people you are with physically. When you check your phone when you are supposed to be engaging with other people you are basically telling them that your phone is more important than them.
  4. Shut your phone off in the car. Texting and driving is not only dangerous, but in many states it’s against the law. So make it a rule when you are driving, shut off your phone so that you are not even tempted to look at it. Your life and other people’s lives are at stake. It is impossible for your mind to be at two places at once, so if your eyes and mind are on your phone, they won’t be on the road. If you need directions, map out your route before you get in the car, and if you need to, pull off to the side of the road and look them up again. You could also invest in a GPS if your vehicle isn’t equipped with one. (Be sure to put in all the information before you begin driving.) Responding to a text or posting to Facebook in the car isn’t worth losing your life over.






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