Written by Jenna Knaupp
“Get off your phone!”
A familiar phrase, right? Maybe even just reading that sentence made you feel annoyed. I mean, you aren’t even on your phone that much, right? However, CNN stated a study conducted by Common Sense Media found that the average teen views media 9 hours per day. Nine hours per day. That’s more than the typical teenager sleeps! CNN also reported that 50% of teens openly admit they feel addicted to their phones. With increasing cases of low motivation, insecurity, stress, and addiction among teens, we may want to re-evaluate this phrase.
To fully examine this assumption, let’s walk through a day of an average teenager. We’ll start with when you first wake up in the morning. You probably have a normal pattern which consists of something like brushing your teeth, styling your hair, choosing an outfit, and eating breakfast. During your morning routine, do you check your phone at all? Because IDC Research stated that 80% of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up each morning. But that may not be concerning to you. After all, the people who admitted to this probably don’t check their phone for more than a few minutes, right? Let’s move on.
You’re at school now, chatting happily with friends about your weekend. Or, perhaps, you aren’t. Why? Well, it could be a variety of reasons. But many researchers would agree that your social anxiety and/or shy behavior are direct results of social media. An American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report on the impacts of social media recently presented a new medical term, known as “Facebook depression.” This refers to teens that spend a great amount of time on social media, and then begin to experience symptoms of depression. The report continued on to say that “One of the biggest threats to young people on social media sites is their digital footprint and future reputations.” Ironically, social media users who frequently access social platforms, in hopes to gain social acceptance, are at a greater risk of social isolation.This risk often leads them to seek out illogical and unsafe help (such as substance abuse and/or aggressive, uncharacteristic-like behaviors). If you were to ask the average teenager why they don’t limit their social media/phone usage, they would probably say it’s for social reasons. (I know I would.) And yet, teenagers who submit themselves to media over-consumption are more likely to be antisocial and isolated.
Time for some self-reflection. Think back to the last time you checked Twitter or Snapchat, or whatever social media platform you prefer. What were your thoughts as you scrolled? Because hundreds of researchers have conducted studies that display a high correlation between social media and negative self-image. You might’ve laughed at a sarcastic and relatable tweet, or smiled over an uplifting news article, but did you also feel a little jealous, or maybe even, alone? If you did feel that way, why? You might have seen pictures of someone else that you envied. Maybe it was the most “popular” girl at your school, posing for a beautiful picture in the fall leaves. You wish you could have clothes like hers, or loyal followers to comment on how attractive you look in your pictures. Perhaps you glanced over an athlete’s post about a recent competition. You now wish your body could look a certain way, or that you could have the motivation to physically push yourself like that person does. You wish, you wish, you wish. But the issue with wishing is that it doesn’t inspire action. Rather, it incites a hopeless attitude. I’ve rarely looked at someone’s picture, post, tweet, snap, story, or comment, and thought “Wow, this makes me want to become a better person!” There can be exceptions to this, as there are sites, profiles, and users devoted to promoting self-appreciation and positive change. But as you become dependant on your phone and the social media and games it offers, you rewire your brain into assuming that your phone is the best reward. The only reward. Anything other than it is not gratifying, and therefore pointless. This dependency, paired with the “I wish” mindset, can result in a negative self-image, and a desire to give up.
On to lunch. You’re sitting in the crowded cafeteria with your peers. Are you eating a school lunch or a homemade lunch? Are you even eating lunch? Or did you not have enough time to make any, because you spent too much time this morning on your phone? If you are eating, what is it? Because according to an article by Newport Academy, teen phone addiction has been linked to poor dietary habits. It’s easy to snack on chips while texting or scrolling through your phone, and it takes much more effort to prepare a salad or some other healthy alternative. While at lunch, are you talking with your friends? Do these conversations revolve around a recent occurrence on social media, or do you talk while scrolling through Instagram? I certainly can attest to this. I’ve eaten many meals with friends who were constantly on their phones or talking about something they viewed on their phone.
Back to class. Are you sitting upright, taking notes, and being engaged in the lesson? Or are you having a hard time focusing? You may be tired, or bored, or perhaps you’re not even concerned about your education. But if you’re feeling anxious, unsure, and unfocused, it may be because of your phone. A research conducted and supported by the Seoul National University Brain Fusion Program Research Fund concluded that phone addiction results in decreased brain connectivity; specifically in areas of the brain that control emotions. Smartphone addiction can also cause individuals to be worrisome and pessimistic, which would further explain the inability to focus in class.
Now you’re driving home. This is where cell phone addiction and driving become fatal. An article by Newport Academy’s on Teen Cell Phone Addiction presented the following statistics: “94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, yet 35% admit to doing it anyway. 11 teens die every day because they were texting and driving.” And still, 35% admit that they still text and drive! This percentage is probably even higher if you take into consideration that many teens were not surveyed, or didn’t answer the survey truthfully. With Oregon’s new distracted driving law, I would hope cell phone usage while driving decreases. But addiction certainly doesn’t follow the law, no matter the consequences.
Once you’ve arrived safely at home, what do you do? I admit that I like to relax after school. I turn on my phone once I arrive home from school. But is that really how I should be combatting my problems or stress? No. You see, another aspect of an altered reward dependant mindset is that addicted teens tend to spend less time with family or friends, and ignore previous hobbies (NCBI, “Dopamine Genes and Reward Dependence in Adolescents with Excessive Internet Video Game Play”). While it is important to relax every now and then, you need to be relaxing in ways that support healthy, fulfilling habits.
Although this article is focusing on teens, it can be applied to anyone who spends too much time on media. With the constant rise of new technology, we need to learn to regulate our usage and exposure to technology. Cell phones and media can be helpful in spreading new ideas, awareness, and warnings, but they can also be incredibly manipulative, destructive, and addictive. Cell phone addiction can result in decreased brain activity, inability to focus or to find motivation, social isolation, a negative self-image, depression, social anxiety, bad dietary habits, and much, much more. We need to raise awareness of the dangers and reality of this addiction and combat it in whatever way we can.