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The Problem of Smartphone-addiction in Teenagers

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Since its invention, smartphones have become indispensable to many. These handheld gadgets serve as a portable personal computer that allows users to make calls and texts, browse the web, and even download applications. The convenience that smartphones bring can easily lead to over-dependence as almost everything can be done through these devices. Including but not limited to, smartphones let users to easily connect with friends and family using Instant-Messaging (IM) applications, stay up to date with the latest trends and updates via social media platforms, solve queries quickly through search engines, or even, purchase a wide array of products online instantly. Unaware, this over-dependence becomes a habit which can quickly progress to smartphone addiction.

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According to the Center of Addiction (2018), “Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body”. Classified as a behavioural addiction (Kim, 2013), smartphone addiction can be defined by several symptoms. Lin, an assistant professor in communications, states that signs of addiction include “the inability to control craving”, “anxiety when separated from a smartphone”, “loss in productivity in studies or at work”, and “the need to constantly check one’s phone” (Yap, 2018). It has been observed that smartphone addiction has been rising rapidly; regardless of age, anyone can fall prey to this addiction. However, this paper will be focusing on smartphone addiction in teenagers and how it negatively impacts the mental health of addicted teenagers. Then, current and new approaches which address this problem will be discussed. With such an exponential increase in smartphone penetration across the globe, it is no surprise that the prevalence of addiction in teenagers increases incidences of depression and anxiety. A consumer survey carried out this year found that 82 per cent of Americans own or can use a smartphone, 92 per cent are likely to use it while shopping, whereas 78% while eating at home, and 44% while crossing the street. Moreover, according to a Pew Research Centre survey, 73 per cent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 92 per cent of them say that they go online every single day. These statistics show that how far this addiction has gone on in our lives that we don’t even consider it an addiction.Every bad action has a bad reaction and in the case of smartphone addiction, there are drastic harmful reactions which happen to our body as a consequence of this craving.

Research shows that smartphone-addicted teenagers may have chemical imbalances in the brain that are similar to people experiencing depression and anxiety, said South Korean researchers (Sandee LaMotte, 2017). And it is the same kind of addiction that is related to drug abuse. The same chemical changes occur in our mind in phone addiction as occurs in drug addiction. Moreover, this addiction is more in female teenagers than those of males and it is seen when study held among 319 universities including 203 females and 116 males. Anxiety, depression and daytime dysfunction are way higher in groups who use too much smartphones as compared to those groups who have less use of smartphones in their daily lives. This not only leads to depression and anxiety but also cause a poor performance in academics.

Jacobsen and Forste (2011) identified a negative relationship between the use of a variety of electronic media including cell phones and academic performance revealing that teenagers with phone addiction are poor in academic performance as compare to others. Although these addicts want to stop this addiction but can’t stop themselves to use the phone again and again. But these bad effects do not end here. Suicide risk factors like suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and plans are 71% more in teenagers who spent five or more hours a day on their smartphones (Jean Twenge, 2018). Moreover it is found that 85% smartphone users check their phone during talk with other people, they check their phone 47 times a day and 80% in them use smartphone more than an hour before going to sleep says Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey. This depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts snatch the happiness from the teenagers. The study in Emotional Journal shows that happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem rose between 1990 and 2011, however, teenage happiness started falling dramatically in 2012, which is right in the middle of the smartphone popularity bang. Moreover, using gathered data that involved more than a million 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States, the researchers found that teenagers who spent a lot of time on their smartphones for social media, messaging, and gaming were not as happy as those who went outside, played sports, and engaged in activities with other people (Aaron Mamiit, January 2018).With these alarming statistics, various countries have started to think about a solution to this exponentially growing problem. In Singapore, there are two counselling centres “The National Addictions Management Services” and “Touch Community Services” with programmes for digital addiction (Jacky Yap, 2018). Both counselling centres are dealing with addiction in teenagers successfully. They have various forms of treatments such as individual therapy and pharmacotherapy. In all these methods, behavioural therapies, especially for depression, are giving great results. Such as Cognitive-behavioural therapy is proving a great way to resolve addiction in teenagers.

“Generally, Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a psycho-social intervention and an efficacious method of treating substance abuse, depression and anxiety to substance abuse issues and drug addiction (Baker et al., 2010; Magil and Ray, 2009). To date, it has been empirically tested for a range of issues including anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders and addiction (Frank, 2004).”It is said that prevention is better than cure. Therefore preventive measures have more importance in smartphone addiction than treatment because by prevention we can protect ourselves beforehand. And knowing the importance of these preventive measures many countries including Singapore and South Korea have started mandatory digital discipline classes where awareness is given about this addiction and discipline is taught to teenagers (Kim, H. 2013). In South Korea, one of the most heavily affected countries in the world, the science ministry now require schools to teach classes on internet addiction with a particular focus on smartphones. They also organise holidays free of technology in which people don’t use the digital gadgets as an attempt to detach students from their handsets.

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Although efforts are done to reduce this addiction among teenagers but more countries need to acknowledge that smartphone addiction is a disorder. Countries need to create more awareness through early education and need to improve the better mental health of teenagers. To reduce addiction to internet, chat rooms and all other stuff related to the smartphone, it is necessary to make recreational programs for students in their holidays so that they can involve in different physical activities rather than sticking to their smartphones. We have to make people aware that this addiction is actually a disorder and in this regard psychiatrists “In Singapore are pushing for medical authorities to formally recognise addiction to the Internet and digital devices as a disorder, joining other countries around the world in addressing a growing problem (Stefanus IAN, 2014).” By making people aware of this addiction, by telling them preventive measures and introducing them to different therapies and counselling centres we can reduce this smartphone addiction in our teenagers.

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