Know! The Harm in Smartphone Overload

According to the Pew Research Center, more than one in three U.S. teens, regardless of family income, carried a smartphone in 2012. Smartphones are the current must-have gadget and their popularity continues to rise.

Among youth who “own” smartphones, rarely will you see them without it. Mobile phones are teens’ number one means of communication and connectedness. For many, it is the first thing they go for in the morning and the last thing they put down at night, not to mention endless interactions with it throughout the day. Aside from the few phone calls that come in (usually from mom or dad), young people use their smartphones to access the internet, text, tweet, take photos, post photos, share comments, play games, listen to music and socialize. But at what point does it go from an acceptable amount of communication, information and entertainment to a smartphone compulsion? And what impact does this have on children?

A recently released Korean study examined the overuse of smartphones among youth and found that those who were very high users had significantly more problematic behaviors and psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, withdrawal, delinquent behavior and difficultly maintaining attention and concentration. Several of these factors, when experienced by youth, can also contribute to the onset of alcohol or other drug use as well (though not directly mentioned in the study). Other risk factors for smartphone overuse are obesity (as smartphone use has replaced physical activities for many youth), and lack of quality sleep (instead of switching off for the night, many kids are sending and receiving texts at all hours).

Know! the signs that signal trouble:

  • If your child feels the “need” to immediately respond to every text and social media update.
  • If your child is constantly checking his/her phone, even when it is not signaling messages.
  • If your child is regularly ignoring the real world and face-to-face interactions.
  • If your child cannot head to the bathroom or go to bed without his/her cell phone.
  • If the thought of being without his/her phone causes your child great anxiety.
  • If your child is losing focus in the classroom and his/her grades are beginning to slip.

Know! to set limits:

  • Help your child pinpoint the reason for constantly checking the phone (automatic behavior, boredom, loneliness, anxiety) and lead him/her to healthier outlets to alleviate the problem.
  • Have your child turn off alert signals and encourage him/her to check the phone less frequently.
  • Make it a rule that the phone is put away while doing homework, during dinner and when friends are visiting and turned off altogether at nighttime.
  • And if texting and driving is an issue (for those of driving age) without question, remove the phone immediately and consider suspending driving privileges.

Just like anything else, smartphones have their pros and cons. But if, at any point, the smartphone begins to interfere with school, relationships or your child’s health, there is an issue and it is time to make changes. Don’t expect gratitude when putting these limits into place, but do Know! that you are doing the right thing for your child.