How Smartphones Are Endangering Young People

Smartphones are changing the way adolescents communicate and spend their time, so parents need to know how smartphones endanger pre-teens to young adults. Smartphones are profoundly changing the way adolescents communicate and spend their time. As a parent, you hear some experts say it’s too soon to be alarmed, while others recommend restricting smartphone usage based on their understanding of childhood emotional and developmental vulnerabilities.The conflicting information can be confusing. To help you make an informed decision, I’ve collected interesting findings from recent studies.

Cyber bullying. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Study (of high-school students) found that “19.6% had been bullied on school property in the previous 12 months, and 14.8% had been electronically bullied.”

Smartphone addiction. Nomophobia (NO MObile PHOne phoBIA) is a 21st-century term for the fear of not being able to use your cell phone or other smart device. (Take an online quiz to see if your child has it.) One National Center for Biotechnology Information study identifies 4 features of smartphone addiction: compulsion, functional impairment, tolerance, and withdrawal.

Wasted time. Roberts, Yaya and Manolis (2014) found that college students spent almost nine hours daily on their cell-phones. Those are hours spent that can never be recovered. Were they spent wisely? You decide.

Injuries and death. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center said nearly one in three 16- or 17-year-olds said they have texted while driving. According to Pew, fifty-nine percent of people between the ages of 18 and 33 reported texting while driving. In midtown Manhattan, 42% of pedestrians who walked through a “Don’t Walk” signal were distracted by an electronic device. A 2013 study found a tenfold increase in injuries related to pedestrians using cell phones from 2005 to 2010.

Mental health and sleep disorders. Another NCBI study indicates that depression, anxiety, and sleep quality is associated with smartphone overuse.

Behavioral and personality shifts. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, explains how today’s super-connected teens are less happy and less prepared for adulthood. They are “different from all previous generations in how they spend their time, how they behave, and in their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. More than previous generations, they are obsessed with safety, focused on tolerance, and have no patience for inequality. iGen is also growing up more slowly than previous generations: eighteen-year-olds look and act like fifteen-year-olds used to.”

Psychosocial and cognitive impact. Some research links media multitasking—texting, using social media and rapidly switching among smartphone-based apps—with lower gray-matter volume in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This is the region involved in emotion processing and decision-making. Researchers from Korea University in Seoul, used brain imaging to study the brains of 19 teenage boys who were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction. Compared with non-addicted teenagers, their brains had significantly higher levels of GABA than levels of glutamate-glutamine, a neurotransmitter that energizes brain signals. GABA is a neurotransmitter that slows down the neurons. This results in poorer attention and control, so you’re more vulnerable to distractions.

Security issues. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey reports that 6% of teens 12-17 use the services to share their location. Their 2016 survey found that 28% of U.S. smartphone owners say they do not use a screen lock or other features to secure their phone. Although a majority of smartphone users say they update their phone’s apps or operating system, around four-in-ten say they only update when it’s convenient for them. And 14% say they never update their phone’s operating system, while 10% say they don’t update the apps on their phone.

You, as the parent, are in the best position to determine if your child is mature enough to properly use a smartphone. If your child is personality type A experiencing high stress levels and low mood, he or she is highly susceptible to smartphone addiction. Positive stress coping mechanisms and mood management techniques can be very beneficial for helping your child overcome this addiction. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Learn more on my website: Smartphones Damage Relationships.

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