Nomophobia a recently named phobia that can affect everyone in this digitally dependent age, but is a greater threat to teen development. Think about how much we all use our cell phones. We can probably all attest to the fact that if we are a smartphone user, the device has somehow become an extension of one of our hands. We rarely leave a room without our phones, and we check them multiple times throughout the day (sometimes multiple times throughout the hour).

When we first wake up in the morning, we often look to our phone before we even get out of bed, scrolling through any messages we have received that might give us an inkling into the day to come. Before we go to bed, we check our social media accounts, make sure we have liked or responded to all of the posts that have interested us, and perhaps post an update about what our day was like. It’s simply what we do in this world of device proliferation. 

Your teen is likely no different. And in all reality, your teen may be connected to the device far more than you are.

Most parents of today’s generation know what the world was like before these devices made their way into our everyday lives. In many cases, our first memory of a mobile phone was in a large bag that our parents brought to their car with them and then plugged into the cigarette lighter. Our own first mobile devices were probably longer than the length of our hand and were several inches thick. And we’ve all probably seen the YouTube video of the two teenagers trying to figure out what to do with a rotary phone

For your teen, they have no memory of a world where information was not readily available at their fingertips. The concept of going to a library, or looking through an encyclopedia, hoping to find a paragraph or two of helpful information on a topic to help them write a paper is probably non-existent. Even more so, the concept of not hearing from a friend until the next school day, or until the upcoming school year begins, could be great content for their worst nightmare. Quite simply, your teens know no other way; mobile device proliferation is their reality.

So what is Nomophobia?

If you have never heard of Nomophobia, you are not alone. The whole concept of Nomophobia hasn’t been main-stream until the last decade. Most of us know that a phobia is an irrational fear. With Nomophobia, it is an irrational fear of being without your phone, or being unable to use that mobile phone, for whatever reason. The most at-risk age group for Nomophobia is those between the ages of 12 to 23.

The word Nomophobia was created by YouGov, a public opinion and data organization out of the United Kingdom. A survey that YouGov conducted at the end of 2017 indicated that 38% of teens surveyed couldn’t make it through just one single day without their mobile device. On the flip side, 25% of those teens surveyed felt they could make it an entire month without their mobile device. The majority of the 13 – 17 year-olds that were studied thought they wouldn’t be able to go without their mobile phone for even a week. This is the epitome of Nomophobia. 

What are the risks if Nomophobia is left untreated?

Left untreated, excessive smartphone and mobile device usage can have negative and long-lasting impacts on our daily lives and our future selves. Aside from developing an inability to communicate in live settings, detriments to work and life balance, and even an increasing prevalence of those uncomfortable in social situations, we still don’t know of any future effects from keeping an electrical device on our bodies at all times. While it doesn’t seem to make it to the news quite often, several scientists and medical researchers have indicated concerns about how cell phones and other wireless technologies can cause biological fracas to human cells.

 While public research is still lacking on cell research, there are still a variety of other conditions, many with medical components, tied to this excessive use of mobile devices. Those risks include, but are not limited to:

  • Weight gain – When it is no longer necessary to get up and go to socialize with others, and when we sleep with our phones next to us, we inevitably get less exercise. Despite the number of “there is an app for that” wellness and health-related applications that you can download to your phone, those apps don’t necessarily encourage folks to get up and move more than people did before cell phones came into existence. Plus, when we don’t get enough sleep (late hours spent scrolling through our social media accounts), our bodies don’t operate at their best and don’t burn calories as efficiently.
  • Shortened attention span – Social media channels, especially with the recent “stories” features on Facebook and Instagram, are designed to provide short bursts of information, and often don’t go into a significant level of detail. Plus, as each person that you may be connected to on your social channels has different interests and you have no idea what they are going to post, your brain is continually getting just little nuggets of unrelated information throughout the day. Plus, that desire to pick up the phone when you should be doing other things, cuts your concentration levels significantly.
  • Motor vehicle dangers – The National Safety Council has reported that there are 1.6 million automobile crashes each year tied to cell phone use, and nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. In fact, with the number of drivers that have cell phones, it is far more likely that texting and driving will cause an accident than the combination of alcohol consumption and driving. For a teen driver, they are four times more likely to get into a car crash when engaged in a conversation or text exchange on their phone than as an adult. Sadly, 94% of teen drivers have indicated that they know of the dangers of texting and driving, but over one-third of them report they do it anyway.
  • Heightened anxiety – Part of teenage behavior often includes a mix of drama, exaggeration, and heightened emphasis on things that most adults wouldn’t think twice about it. These behaviors are part of growing up and are standard as teens try to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and how to be successful members of society. If we think as far back as Paul Revere when he rode into town by horseback and exclaimed, “the British are coming!” it helps us realize how the dissemination of information used to be. It could be days or weeks before we might find out of a war in another country, or even the death of a loved one. With social media and these devices right at our fingertips, information is readily available. And in some cases, it is already old news before we even have a chance to read about it. For teens, especially when engaging in group texts that require an immediate response “or else,” this can result in anxiety and stress to be “always on” or “always at the ready.”
  • Germaphobia – Those who have germaphobia, which is the irrational fear of contamination and germs, may find that their once irrational fear is no longer so, well, unreasonable. Cell phones, especially when carried everywhere, such as your bedroom, kitchen, and even the bathroom (no, the top of the toilet paper holder is not a germ-free place to set your phone when doing your business), are bound to be picking up germs throughout the day. And what if you have a cold or a flu bug? You are probably washing your hands more frequently, but are you sneezing and then taking that same hand that covered your sneeze and then picking up your phone?
  • Eye strain and occipital neuralgia – To prevent eye strain, it is often suggested to place your screen at least 20 inches away from your face. But with a cell phone, it is much more likely that the device is right in front of our face, less than six inches away, and this is definitely the case with your teenager. In addition to eye strain, occipital neuralgia is a painful condition that is caused by bending your neck at such an angle so that the nerves are compressed. This can result in neck strain and headaches.
  • Declining performance at school – If your teen’s grades have started to slip, or if a teacher has contacted you indicating your child is tired in class or unable to concentrate, this could be a sign of Nomophobia.

How do I know if my teen has Nomophobia?

You may suspect that your teen has Nomophobia for reasons that will be obvious to you as a parent. But if you are not quite sure what to look for, leverage this list below.

  • Whenever you go somewhere, they immediately look for a WIFI connection upon arrival. This might be a hotel, school, restaurant, or anywhere that is not home.
  • If your teen brings their phone to the dinner table, either at home or when dining out, and continues engaging in a game or social media.
  • Your teen shows extreme and unfounded frustration when their battery runs low or an application is not working correctly.
  • Your teen no longer enjoys activities that he or she used to engage in before having a smartphone.
  • They are checking their phone excessively, as though they have a compulsion to know what is happening at any moment. This can be evident if they put the phone down, but then immediately tap on the screen to keep their notifications lit up.
  • Their phones are left on at bedtime, or they sleep next to their phone, or both.
  • They exhibit potentially disrespectful or out of line behavior or responses when asked to turn off their phone or put it away.

How can I help my teen with their Nomophobia?

Family Dinner | Nomophobia | Hillcrest ATC

Parents will definitely want to help their child to treat or “get over” their Nomophobia, but first need to understand that Nomophobia is an addiction and one that they might not be able to control on their own.  And, understand that your teen will likely get angry when you start to establish rules or increased guidelines on when and where they can use their phone. These behaviors are normal and are to be expected.

Follow these tips to try and reduce the long-term effects of Nomophobia on your teenager, and make sure that you practice as many of these strategies too so that you can set a good example.

  • Have all cell phones kept in the kitchen or another designated place overnight for charging. Your teen may argue that they use their phone as an alarm clock. If this is the case, invest in a basic “old school” alarm clock (even better, purchase this item in advance of the conversation with your child so that you can immediately overcome their objection).
  • Determine one night per week (frequency will vary based on your family’s unique circumstances) where the entire family does something together and mobile devices are not allowed to attend. This can be as simple as eating dinner out on the porch with cell phones left inside. This could even be a trip to the mall and cell phones are left in the car.
  • Work with your cell phone carrier to identify a plan that has more limits and perhaps restricted data so that your teen has no choice but to use their phone less, or has to pay for usage over a certain amount.

While technology brings with it so many benefits, as with anything, it is best to use and enjoy in moderation.

Parents will likely find that as they work with their teens to correct the behaviors that are common with Nomophobia, that they too will turn to that smartphone less. And this is good for everybody as you will find your family starts to engage more directly and will strengthen that household bond.

If your teen’s struggles with nomophobia go beyond what your family can handle as a cohesive unit, reaching out to a facility that specializes in treating teen addiction and dependency – like Hillcrest ATC – might be the best way to get your family back on track!