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Are You Addicted To Your Phone?

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Are You Addicted To Your Phone?

Let’s face it. Everyone has a smart phone these days. While staying connected and having access to information at your fingertips has many perks, there are also many down sides to having and using these devices. In addition to losing the ability to connect face-to-face, these smart phones have also become quite a distraction from performing the required daily tasks, including studying, homework, and even sleeping! The constant pinging, dinging, ringing and vibrating of these phones has become something we count on and look forward to. For some, this literally becomes more important than anything else. As such, one can actually become addicted to his or her phone.

Studies have recently been conducted concluding that the sounds and notifications that these phones make stimulate the same “reward centers” of the brain as cocaine and heroin do. One study showed evidence of disrupting pathways related to emotions, decision-making, and self control. The researchers said previous studies have found similar white matter changes in the brain scans of people addicted to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth and more. It is helpful to understand the meaning of the word “addiction” in order to see why this so important and to fully grasp the potential consequences.

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response”.

As with any other addiction, getting your fix can actually become more important than anything else, and people will often go to extremes to get it. So, what does this really look like for teens?

Here is an example of what an actual cell phone addiction might look like for a teenager:

The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is turn on your phone and look at your notifications. You will spend time viewing all of your missed snaps on Snapchat, and you will check Instagram to see who liked your latest post and catch up on what others have posted.

You will likely not be ready to leave on time for school, because you lost track of time while being on your phone. If you take a bus or someone drives you to school, you will be on your phone texting and watching YouTube videos the entire way to school. If you drive, you will very likely check your phone while you are driving, which is dangerous and illegal in most states.

In class, you will try to resist the urge to use your phone during class, but you will not succeed. You will feel the phone vibrate in your pocket, and you will have a NEED to check it. You might even lie and say you need to use the restroom or get a drink of water, just so you can check your phone.

Because you are more focused on your phone than your teacher, you will not take good notes or learn the lesson you are being taught. This will ultimately have a negative impact on your grades. After school, you will again be on your phone non-stop, even while attempting to do homework and/or study.

When your parent attempts to talk to you, you will pick up your phone in the middle of the conversation to check it. At the dinner table, you will feel the need to check it. You literally cannot go even 5 minutes without checking your phone. You will gobble down your food, so that you can leave the table and get back to your phone. If your parent takes it away, you will fly into an actual rage, where you might cuss, break something, or threaten harm to yourself or others.

If you attend church or go to a movie (where you know touching a phone is unacceptable) you look at your phone several times anyways. You don’t care if it distracts the people sitting near you.

You will stay up way later than you ought to, later than you know is good for you, because you are on your phone. You will check it multiple times during the night, when you ought to be asleep, in case you might have missed something. As a result, you will be very tired and groggy, again affecting your grades, but also your mood and your attitude. This will have a negative impact on your personal relationships, as you are more likely to be irritated and reactive when you are tired and groggy. If this sounds like you, you are likely addicted to your phone.

Here is an example of a healthier scenario:

You wake up and get ready for school. You grab your phone on the way out, and check it on the way to school. If you drive, you check it before you leave, and then not again until you arrive at school. You leave it in your backpack during class, and check it between classes or at break times. After school, you spend some time on it communicating with your friends, but then you put it away while you focus on your homework and studying. You check it again before dinner, but you leave it your room during dinner, and have a conversation with your family instead. At the end of the night, you check in one last time and say goodnight to your friends. Then you turn your phone off and put it far away from your bed, perhaps even in a different room, and you sleep. If this sounds like you, you’ve got things under control.

What can you do if you’re addicted? Unfortunately, like most addictions, you might actually need professional help to get to the bottom of why you need something external to make you feel good internally. But there are steps you can take that will help if you can follow them. You will likely need your parents’ help.

  1. Your parent could take your phone in their room at night, so you don’t feel the urge to use it when you should be asleep.
  2. They should not return it to you until you are completely ready for school in the morning, with time to spare.
  3. Turn it completely off during class. No exceptions.
  4. Turn it off while you are doing homework. You will likely find that you get your work done much faster anyway, leaving you with more time to get back on the phone.
  5. Leave it in your room during dinner or family time. Nobody will die if you don’t answer their text instantly.
  6. Most importantly, NEVER TEXT WHILE DRIVING. It can wait.

Owning a phone comes with the same responsibilities as owning a car, house or pet. You must be responsible. If you cannot be responsible then you should lose the right to use that piece of property all together.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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