How often do you see young people on their phone? If you answered anything other than all the time, you are not interacting with the same teenagers that we are. Phone and tablet use is so common that it is even being added to their school curriculum. Prompts such as “find this resource online and raise your hand when you have” are ways to engage children in classes for many teachers. These teachers are operating under the idea that if they’re going to be on the phones anyway, teachers might as well use that to their advantage.
While some may disagree with that method, there is no denying the fact that teens are grossly involved in their phones. They are texting, Snapchatting, and using Instagram at a rate that can hardly be quantified.
With such extensive phone use, it is not surprising that teens are having anxiety when they do not have instant access to their devices. If you haven’t heard of this condition before, Nomophobia is the intense fear of going without your phone. Nomophobia involves growing anxiety as the phone battery is drained and needing to recharge it right away. The removal of a phone could send the young person with Nomophobia into a severe spiral or even crisis.
Some of the signs or symptoms of Nomophobia include anxiety, respiratory issues, trembling, perspiration, agitation, disorientation, and tachycardia. But why are we so engrossed in our phones? These days, mobile phones promise us instant connection. We can make internet-based friends through social media, remain in constant contact with our loved ones, have access to information at our fingertips, and avoid daily life as much as possible. These are compelling reasons for the teens to never put the phones down.
These compelling reasons come with high risks and stakes.
A 2010 study really put this fear into the forefront of researchers’ minds. This study, based in the UK, found that 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from Nomophobia. This study considered 2,163 people. While the number may seem small, it’s actually a decent look at the UK population that can then be used to explore other populations. This goes to show that the fear of being disconnected without a phone can be a real issue for much of the population. This kind of phobia can prevent people from functioning well and ultimately, succeeding in communities where you just cannot have a phone 100% of the time.
Our teens who are dealing with Nomophobia are at risk of not succeeding in school and in their lives outside of it. There are many contributing factors where phone use and success are concerned, and in this article, we’ll be going over several ways where nomophobia negatively impacts positive growth and success in your teen.
Young people are using their phones so much that the blue light from the screen impacts their sleep cycles. They are also staying up late into the night on their phones and sleep with them on. Any text or phone calls could wake them up and interrupt the quality of sleep that they so depend on.
To stay healthy, a teenager should be sleeping at least nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. The uninterrupted sleep is likely not happening for someone with Nomophobia because if they wake up they may immediately return to their phone use instead of sleeping. This can lead to anxiety, restlessness, inability to concentrate, and overconsuming caffeine. All of which can have serious consequences on their ability to learn new information and retain previously known information.
This can also impact their relationships. A sleep-deprived person will likely be irritable and quicker to engage in unhealthy behaviors in their interpersonal relationships. This is during a developmental time that relationships are so important. An interruption in this area could be consequential.
While their relationships could be impacted by a lack of deep sleep, they could also be impacted by the general phone use as well. If the teen is on their phone all the time, they could be having difficulties staying present as well as connecting with, listening to, and understanding others.
These issues make maintaining healthy relationships difficult. This could lead to people saying things such as “why are we even hanging out if all you want to do is be on your phone?” or “if I’m talking to you why are you texting?”
Being on a device all the time can lead to other people feeling insignificant or less important. This can make them avoid you or no longer want to be friends or partners with you. A teenager may not necessarily understand the depth of the impact until they are isolated as a result of the overuse of the cell phone. This can be painful and damaging to them and perhaps make them no longer want to engage in a relationship with a person with Nomophobia.
Lack Of Play
If teens and even middle and elementary school-aged children are engrossed in their devices, they may not be participating in developmentally appropriate peer play. Play helps to ensure that the child is fully developed and that they can explore interests, beliefs, creativity, and learn about themselves. Children with Nomophobia are likely engaging in individual technology play more than they are peer play.
Lack of play can be extremely detrimental to the growth of our children. While they may be playing in a web-based format, they are not physically interacting with other children. They may not develop a clear understanding of context, body language, and clear communication because these are lacking on the internet-based games.
Emergency Skills And Life Skills
On a basic level, our teens should know about how to navigate an emergency situation. If all the feel they can do is use their phone to call for help, are they really prepared to enter adulthood and navigate the real world? Most likely not.
The truth is that we cannot isolate life to just what the smartphone offers us. Eventually, there will be situations where we have to go without it. Will teens be able to navigate banking, directions, and remembering phone numbers without access to their devices and data? Nomophobia is beginning to impact this.
I am willing to bet that a good chunk of these young people may be unable to manage these basic tasks. This is unacceptable and shows that their constant usage of their phones robs them of being adequately prepared for independence: financially and logistically.
So, What Does This Mean And How Can We Help?
It is clear that a large percentage of our teenagers are relying upon smartphones to manage daily life. They have increased anxiety about what will happen without access to a device and they fear the loss of it. How can we help reduce nomophobia to ensure that teens are functioning at their highest level and we prepare them for the most success?
There are different treatment routes that can be considered. One treatment route for youth struggling with mental illnesses and phobias, such as Nomophobia, is to access inpatient residential treatments. The next route is to access wraparound outpatient services.
Inpatient residential treatment will consist of a combination of psychotherapy and medication management as well as learning and practicing life skills and repairing any relationships that have been damaged through having a mental illness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other skill-based therapies will teach young people about why they feel the need to use the phone so often and attempt to offer them solutions to use the phone less as well as control the anxiety they experience when they are without the phone. The goal of this being to ultimately reduce the anxiety that they experience if they are going to lose access to the phone. Treatment will likely include a form of exposure therapy, where the individual slowly works up to not having the phone for a small amount of time and then increasing that time as they show they are regulated. While it may be surprising, there are medications on the market that have been found to be helpful in successfully treating cases of Nomophobia. An inpatient Psychiatrist will explore these options with the teenager. These include Tranylcypromine and Clonazepam. Both are used to treat anxiety disorders and were not initially created for Nomophobia treatment but are helpful in combination with psychotherapy.
There are also simple lifestyle tricks that we can use to prevent extreme use that leads to Nomophobia:
- Every day make sure there is time that the phones are turned off -If you are a parent or a guardian of a young person ask that as a family you turn the phones off an engage in an activity together. This will help to normalize deviceless time so that it becomes less anxiety producing when the teen is without the phone.
- Ensure that an hour spent on the phone is an hour spent communicating in person with someone else. – This will ensure that the young person avoids the issues that can come with isolation and not having adequate social skills. It will protect them from relying on their phones to a large extent and developing Nomophobia. They will likely need in-person social skills to become employed in the future so we want to make sure they are equipped with these skills now. Making space for practice will help with this.
- Take on a technology fast – Go beyond dropping the phone for an hour and commit to a full day once per month where you do not use a phone, laptop, tablet, or any device. Read a book, go for a hike, or do anything you enjoy but do it without access to the internet.
- Do not sleep with the phone at night – When you go to bed or when your teen goes to bed, leave the phone on the opposite side of the bedroom and turn it on silent. Do not allow the phone to beep or ring and wake you up. This will create many different health issues that we want to avoid.
- Education – Teach teens about Nomophobia and ask them to check in on their own status. Do they notice or feel an addiction to their phone? Are they feeling anxious without it? Allow them to be the judge of this behavior so that they are actively engaged in the process.
Most often phobias are developed and exist because there is a health and safety component to the fear. For young people it can be the intense fear of being disconnected makes them feel unsafe. Thoughts such as “what will I do” creep in as the phone battery begins to die.
To best support our teens we need to expose them to deviceless hours and show them the importance of life skills, leisure time, and relationships. We need to offer them treatment if we notice they are beginning to struggle or full-on fear life without the phone.
If your teen is struggling with nomophobia and they’re struggling to succeed, you have options. Hillcrest – and our trained staff – can help. Reach out today in order to find out how we can help your teen heal from addiction, break free from phone reliance, and start to move forward on the road to recovery!