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Getting serious about smartphone addiction
June 4, 2017, 5:11 pm

Parents do not need polls to tell them their teenage kids are addicted to mobile devices; it is something they observe on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the latest poll by Common Sense Media should come as an eye-opener to even the most teen-weary parent.

While the poll results showing 59 percent of parents said their teens were addicted to mobile devices was not surprising, what was truly shocking was that 50 percent of teens admitted to being addicted.

Perhaps it is time to get serious about the multiple ill effects that tech-addiction does to teens.

Lack of empathy: Clinical social workers and sociologists have observed a lack of empathy among young cellphone addicts.

Empathy is a trait essential to the well-being of society. It enables understanding and appreciation for the feelings of others.Without empathy and human connection, young people can become cold and cruel to others. Then, when they encounter cold and cruel responses from other young people, the cycle perpetuates itself and grows.

Whether users are addicted or not, cellphone use can perpetuate a lack of accountability, breed irresponsible behavior, feed malevolence, and retard the ability to effectively nurture social skills inherent in our civility to be kind, thoughtful, caring, loving and understanding.

Instant gratification: Smartphones summon information and entertainment on demand. Thus, instant gratification becomes a constant expectation on and offline.

Smartphones and computers socialize us into a pattern of communication that then carries over to our everyday non-tech communication lives. We expect answers right away, become impatient, use shorter sentences, get right to the point instead of engaging in small talk, and can ignore feelings of others in expressing ourselves.

This lack of soft skills, which include people skills and critical-thinking skills, can interfere with getting a job and with getting promotions. Socializing and building authentic relationships in real life with others is a muscle. The more we use it, the better we get at it. The reverse is also true. Therefore, as teens interact primarily with people through a screen, they often lose the skills needed to connect in person.

Emotional disabilities:Smartphones offer young people more access to the world, but they also give more of the world access to young people. Without buffers and filters, teens and preteens can be influenced in all the worse ways.

Researchers reported a strong association between heavy internet use and depression. They also observed a link between heavy Facebook use and depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem. 

Teens are in the stage of development where they still do not have a strong sense of identity, so by constantly being on social media, they are effectively exposed to ads and models that promote unrealistic bodies or body weight. Ultimately, these ads negatively affect younger people's mental health due to the skewed representation of beauty or lifestyles that align with the products and services of many companies.

Breaking Smartphone Addiction: Most experts advise parents to encourage their children to limit the time they spend online. The key is to help kids find balance in their activities. There are specific steps parents can take to achieve that balance.

Talk about it: Do not just lay down rules — discuss smartphone use with kids and explain why they need to seek balance and do other things. Help your child understand technology is not bad, but ask them, “Do you control it or does it control you?"

Set boundaries: Be smart and practical about it. Not all online time is equal; sometimes kids simply have to be online for schoolwork, and other times, it is for fun. Parents need to set boundaries on the latter. Consider forbidding devices at the dinner table and leaving them outside bedrooms after bedtime.

Set a good example: Put your own devices down. Practice what you preach; after all, many parents also are addicted and need to regain their life balance. Nearly 28 percent of teens think their parents are addicted to their mobile devices, and 69 percent of parents admit to checking their devices, at minimum, every hour, according to the Common Sense Media poll.

Help them find balance: Offer alternatives or suggest other activities. Find some activities that they can do alone, some they can do with friends, and others they can do with parents. Again, the keyword is ‘balance’.

Technology is not going away. If anything, it will become more pervasive. The key is to ensure that tech remains a tool — a servant and not a master. 

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