Smartphones are everywhere. Those of us who use them wonder how we ever lived without them only a couple of years ago. For teens, the phenomenon of the smartphone may be even more important. New research is suggesting that not only are more teens becoming addicted to using their smartphones, but they are at risk of other issues as a result. Some experts may not consider the obsessive use of a device a real addiction, but young people are showing signs of mental health problems similar to “real” addicts.
The Korean Study
The research that has just been released is preliminary, and as yet unpublished. This means it is still pretty early to be making big generalizations, but the results are important nevertheless. Researchers at the Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea investigated 200 teens and demonstrated that those who used their smartphones the most also showed some troubling behaviors and psychological issues. These teens who were rated as high users of smartphones showed aggression, anxiety, depression, withdrawal, delinquent behavior and difficulty maintaining attention and concentration.
The symptoms seen in these teens are similar to those observed in previous studies of people addicted to gaming and the Internet. The official guide to psychiatric disorders, used by all kinds of professionals, and called the DSM-V, includes Internet and gaming addiction as possible disorders that should be studied further. Smartphone use is not included, but it is easy to see how it could be similar to gaming and Internet obsessions.
The leader of the study of Korean youth warns that the number of teens using smartphones will only increase and that the problem will only get worse. He recommends that doctors attempt to screen their young patients for addiction to smartphones, as well as Internet usage and gaming. He sees the early identification of those teens that are susceptible as being the key to overcoming this very modern problem.
Teens and Smartphones
As the researchers suggested, teen use of smartphones is only increasing. As these devices become more accessible around the world, more and more young people will begin using them and over-using them. According to a report from 2012, over one-third of U.S. teens own a smartphone. This is an increase of 23 percent from 2011. In South Korea, where the research was conducted, more than two-thirds of teens are using smartphones. This is an increase from less than 10 percent just a few years ago.
Clearly the teens in South Korea are ahead of their American counterparts in terms of smartphone usage, and probably in terms of addiction to them. U.S. teens are not far behind, though, and they will continue to get access to smartphones. With increased access come increased obsessive use and addiction.
Signs Your Teen Could be Addicted
So how do you prevent your teen from experiencing the aggression, anxiety, depression and other issues associated with overusing her smartphone? First, understand the signs of a problem. Then, have a frank talk about the risks of using her phone so much and make a plan for cutting back and putting in restrictions. Here are some things to look out for:
- She feels the need to respond immediately. Smartphones have given us the ability to be constantly connected and to answer calls, emails, texts, and social media updates in an instant. A smart smartphone user should be able to resist the urge to respond to absolutely everything right away.
- She is constantly checking her phone even when it does not ring or vibrate. Smartphones are smart in that they allow you to get signals when there is something new, like a text. If your teen swears she felt it vibrate and checks her phone constantly, she has a real sign of addiction. This is a real phenomenon and it is called phantom vibration.
- She is ignoring what is happening in real time. If your teen ignores you and the rest of the family in favor of her phone and what is happening in the virtual world of texts and social media, she has a problem.
- She feels anxious when away from her phone. Studies have found that turning off phones can induce physical and mental withdrawal symptoms in teenagers that is similar to those exhibited by drug addicts.
- Her grades are dropping. If your teen has always gotten certain grades and they are now slipping, you could have a real problem on your hands.
There are many possible negative consequences of teens being addicted to smartphones. Take the time to assess your children and decide if they need limits on their phone time. They may not thank you now, but they will be better off later.