As cell phones become more commonplace in our society we are seeing a rise in the number of teens (and adults) who acknowledge being addicted to their mobile devices. Common Sense Media did a recent survey and found that 59 percent of parents surveyed (1240 in total) felt their children, between the ages of 12 to 18, were addicted. A 2011 survey of 18 different studies found that 66% of parents felt their kids spent too much time on their devices—and 52% of their teen children agreed with them. (www.CNN.com, 5/03/16)
In China, and other countries, officials have acknowledged the dangers of cell phone addiction and view it as a threat to public health. The United States has not gotten there yet, but there is growing concern among parents, school personnel and healthcare professionals about teens’ use of mobile devices.
There are benefits of our growing technology, but there are just as many drawbacks/disadvantages. The studies identified these key points:
- 36% of parents argue daily with their child over use of mobile devices.
- 77% of parents reported their children are distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention during family gatherings.
- 80% of teens in this survey check their phones hourly.
- 72% of teens felt they had to response immediately to any messages they receive.
(www.CNN.com, 5/03/16) It, however, is not just our children. Parents are similarly addicted. Of the teens surveyed, 28% believe their parents are addicted. And a significant number of parents did acknowledge checking their phone frequently—69% of parents, as compared to 78% of teens. More significant is the disclosure that 56% of the parents surveyed admitted to checking mobile devices while driving. The study concluded that more research is needed to understand the extent of this addiction to mobile devices and to examine the effects of such over-dependence.
A recent Washington Post article more broadly called this an “addiction to screens”, or an “internet addiction”. While the medical community in the United States has not yet officially recognized this “addiction”, most of us can, anecdotally, vouch for the likelihood of many around us (including, perhaps, ourselves) having addictions to screens, whether it be a computer, tablet or smart phone. In fact, thirty miles outside of Seattle, Washington there is a rehabilitation center devoted to breaking those addictions, called reSTART. The additions have caused “a growing number of parents and experts say addiction to screens is becoming a major problem for many young Americans, causing them to drop out of school, withdraw from their families and friends, and complain of deep anxieties in social settings.”
There are several obvious problems with this growing dependence on mobile devices, or “screens”. Teens who constantly monitor social media sites, like Instagram, SnapChat and other places are not tuned into their surroundings. Teens have committed suicide after being taunted and ‘outed’ via social media. Sharing of explicit photographs and texts over a mobile device can lead to serious problems for teens and adults, including at school or work.
And, if they are driving while distracted, or using their technology while driving, the dangers are significant and often life threatening. Reports of crashes linked to drivers’ texting while behind the wheel have increased along with the use of cell phones. In 2014, there were 3,179 lives lost because of distracted driving. Quickly (and safely) glance to your right or left the next time you are on a busy road and you will not have to wait long to see someone checking out their cellphone.
We simply have to find a way to lessen this obsession with the internet and mobile devices. And one of the earliest, best ways to head off addiction is in the home. Parents who give cell phones and tablets to young children can set guidelines and model appropriate usage. The parent who checks email and texts during a family meal is normalizing that kind of behavior for their children.
Parents can establish no-internet zones and ban all mobile usage during mealtimes (e.g., everybody puts their cell phone in the middle of the table) and family gatherings. Phones should be cut off and stored in purses or glove compartments when the car is in operation to limit the risks of distracted driving.
It is easy to forget that 20 years ago cell phones were not commonplace. They were mainly used for phone calls—and we managed to go through our days without being in constant touch with the wider world. We cannot go back in time and maybe we would not want to. But, we can examine our personal habits and talk with our children about responsible ways to use the internet and mobile devices. First, however, we may need to conquer this demon ourselves.