If you’re a parent to a teenager, then odds are you’re all too familiar with smartphone addiction. But what you probably didn’t know is that handing a smartphone to your child is as harmful as giving them a gram of cocaine.
According to Mandy Saligari, an addiction specialist at London’s Harley Street Drug and Alcohol Rehab, “when you’re giving your kid a tablet or a phone, you’re really giving them a bottle of wine or a gram of coke.”
This may sound like scaremongering to some, but once you realize that patients seeking help for smartphone addiction at rehab clinics are as young as 12, it means it’s high time we took this problem seriously.
What is smartphone addiction?
Studies have shown that smartphones can cause addictive behavior much in the same way drugs and alcohol can. We all know at least one person who simply can’t stand being separated from their smartphone – not even when they use the restroom. Most of us, however, don’t realize just how harmful smartphone addiction can be.
So what exactly does it mean to be addicted to your smartphone and how is it different from simply having an unhealthy habit? The best way to put is that addiction starts when “a habit changes into an obligation.”
Some of the main elements of behavioral dependence on cell phones include “the loss of control, the establishment of a dependent relationship, tolerance, the need for progressively more time and dedication, and severe interference with daily life.”
As far as the prevalence of smartphone addiction goes, it’s difficult to get accurate figures. What we do know is that the harmful use of smartphones is especially rampant among children and adolescents. In fact, children as young as 13 are now being treated for smartphone addiction.
Harmful effects of too much screen time
· Mental health
According to research published in BCM Psychiatry, the widespread use of mobile phones among youngsters is directly correlated with declining mental health among the under-25 age group. The same research found that compulsive use of smartphones increases the risk of anxiety and perceived stress levels in young people.
Smartphone addiction is also linked to an increased risk of depression. A study on Japanese adolescents found that problematic use of smartphones worsens depressive moods and encourages unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Another frightening consequence of smartphone addiction is that it can literally shrink young brains. One study showed that college students who showed the highest scores for smartphone dependency also had lower grey matter volume. The damage was especially visible in parts of the brain responsible for attention, decision-making, emotion, memory, and impulse control.
· Physical health
As for the physical problems caused by smartphone addiction, the list is long. One of the biggest concerns is the rising incidence of vision impairment in children and teenagers. According to optician Andy Hepworth, the blue light emitted by smartphone screens is “toxic to the back of the eye.” Prolonged exposure to blue light increases the risk of macular degeneration, which is one of the leading causes of blindness.
Studies show that excessive use of smartphones among adolescents is linked to a number of spine-related problems. Teenagers addicted to smartphones tend to have a limited range of motion in the spine, joint and muscle problems, as well as abnormal head and neck posture.
Smartphones are also one of the dirtiest items we use. In fact, an average cell phone is covered with over 25,000 bacteria per square inch, which is more than the toilet seat, kitchen counter, and doorknob combined! Phones have been found to harbor fecal bacteria such as E. coli, which can cause serious food poisoning.
How to wean your child off their smartphone
If you suspect that your child might be addicted to their smartphone, it’s time to set up some firm ground rules.
First of all, you need to set a daily smartphone time limit. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children older than 6 years old should spend no more than 2 hours per day looking at a screen.
It’s also a good idea to have “no-phone zones” in the house. For example, children shouldn’t be allowed to use their smartphones at the dinner table, during family car rides, when they’re playing outside, or at bedtime.
Don’t forget that children learn by imitating, so set a positive example and limit your own screen time. Finally, make sure you spend enough time interacting meaningfully with your children and encourage them to participate in healthy activities.