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How often do you check your phone? With the rise of the digital age, studies show that more and more people are becoming addicted to their screens.
A July 2015 poll conducted by Gallup found that 41% of adult smartphone users check their phone a few times an hour, and 11% check their phone every few minutes. When they narrowed the results into the 18 to 29 year-old age range, they found that these figures increased even further, with 51% checking their phones a few times an hour and 22% every few minutes.
“I’ve worked with hundred of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts,” says ‘Glow Kids’ author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, “and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroic addict than a true screen addict.”
Dr. Larry B. Rosen suggests that one of the causes for the rise of screen addiction – in an age when anyone can be connected and plugged in at all times – stems from a common psychological worry: the fear of missing out.
“When you glance at your phone, in the absence of an alert or notification, how do you feel?” asks Dr. Rosen, “I would bet that sometimes you feel happy, like when you read something on Facebook that makes you smile, or watch a video that you then forward to your friends. But I’d also bet that sometimes you feel relief—that you have not missed out on something someone posted or said (FOMO); that nobody is having fun without you; or even that you are among the first to like or comment on a post.”
He adds that adults who suffer from screen addiction may also use their screens as a shield to combat social anxiety – For example, by taking out their phone while waiting in line at the grocery store to avoid having to have a conversation with other customers.
Screen addiction isn’t just affecting adults, however, but psychologists warn that it is also having a large impact on children.
“One of the most amazing things that I observed was that kids raised from an early age on a high-tech/high-screen diet suffered from what seemed to be a digital malaise,” claims Dr. Kardaras, “They lacked a natural curiosity and a sense of wonder and imagination that non-screen kids seemed to have. They didn’t know—or care to know—about what was happening around them in the world. All that seemed to drive them was a perpetual need to be stimulated and entertained by their digital devices.”
This, argues Dr. Kardaras, is because the passive stimulation of glowing screens risks replacing creative play at a pivotal stage of brain development, when the body is building the most neural connections, and this can have a negative impact on imagination and curiosity.
Another major problem is that screen addiction in children may interfere with the development of important social skills. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Group, for instance, found that only 35 percent of teens socialize primarily through face-to-face interactions, compared to an alarming 63% who socialize mostly through text messages.
In a study conducted at the Boston Medical Centre, which observed 55 families eating at fast-food chains, Dr. Jenny S. Radesky observed that 72% of adults used their mobile devices throughout most of the meal and paid little attention to their children.
This is a real problem, not only because children often mimic the behaviour of their parents, but because children who feel neglected often choose to act out or misbehave as a call for attention.
“I feel like I’m just boring,” a 4 year-old girl interviewed for Dr. Steiner-Adair’s book explained, “I’m boring to my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.”
Because children are so impressionable, Dr. Steiner-Adair, author of ‘The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age’, suggests that parents need to lead by example and enforce proper guidelines and limitations for their children’s screen use.
Screen addiction has furthermore undeniably contributed to the growing epidemic of distracted driving, which has now surpassed drunk driving as the leading cause of annual car crashes.
If you or someone you know feels compelled to check their phone and be connected at all times – even while driving – products like DriveCare can help.
But like any form of addiction, it is important to recognize and evaluate the root causes of the problem, and to seek help if necessary.