Is your cell phone nearby? Is it within your reach? It’s not surprising that this may be case. You might use it to keep in touch with people, schedule, shop, bank and get news about the world around you. Smartphones are useful. But are they dangerous? Can you or your teen actually become addicted to using a smartphone?
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Smartphone addiction has become commonplace enough that we now have a word for it: nomophobia. It’s short for “no-mobile-phone-phobia” and is experienced by approximately 66% of the population. It is identified by an increase in stress levels when a person’s cell phone is inaccessible.
Other symptoms can include:
- an inability to turn off your cell phone
- panic if your phone’s battery dies, or if your phone goes out of a service area
- constantly checking that you have your phone with you
- obsessively checking for notifications
Understanding Behavioral Addictions
So this is a fear, but what makes it an addiction when there’s no substance involved? Smartphone addiction is a type of behavioral addiction. This is a term used to identify behaviors that become impulsive or even uncontrollable.
In the case of smartphone addiction, this could mean:
- checking notifications constantly, often without realizing that you’re doing so
- taking your smartphone everywhere
- using your smartphone at inappropriate times
- thinking you hear or feel your phone go off, even when it hasn’t
If you’re concerned that your teen might have a behavioral addiction, particularly with their smartphone, some signs and symptoms to look out for include attachment, withdrawal when they don’t have their phone, phantom vibration or anxiety around its battery life.
How a Smartphone Addiction Might Affect Your Teen
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As with most behavioral addictions, your teen might be missing out on key aspects of life as a result of a smartphone addiction. This could include building healthy relationships, paying attention in school or participating in extracurriculars. Your teen might also be masking stress, anxiety or even depression by immersing themselves in their smartphone.
That said, a lot of teen social interaction now takes place online. Be cognizant of the fact that if you forcibly take away your teen’s cell phone, you may be preventing them from interacting with their peers, and stunting their social growth.
How to Avoid or Address a Smartphone Addiction
If you’re worried that your teen might be at risk of cultivating a smartphone addiction or if you think they already have, there are ways you can help them. Try to find ways to limit their cellphone usage—but if possible, do that by encouraging them to participate in other activities, not by removing privileges:
- Set aside one day a week for the whole family to leave their phones behind and do a fun activity together. If a whole day is out of the question, try an afternoon or evening.
- Set a good example by not being overly dependent on your own smartphone. Share your struggles to shed the habit of checking it all the time, and speak openly about how much more you enjoy spending time without it.
- Encourage participation in activities that are not possible to do while using a smartphone, such as organized sports.
If you’re concerned that your teen’s smartphone addiction is masking deeper issues, it’s important to seek the help of a mental health professional. They can shed light on the reasons behind your teen’s behavioral addiction and help them work towards recovery.
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