It’s not an uncommon sight to see a teenage kid having their own cell phone in the present era. Of course, smart phones are a handy tool, unlike in the past they are not just used to make calls and receive send messages. They are also used to browse the internet, for location and navigation, to take photos and videos and store them, to record and play music, as a display tool of date and time, stopwatch and alarm clock, to know weather and temperature details, to dictate and take notes, utilities like flashlight and calculators, also there are various social media apps helping the teens to connect up with. Parents allow teenagers that is kids aged between 12 to 17yrs to have a cell phone of their own for various reasons. Though many appear to be always hooked to these devices many of them do use it within healthy limits.
The tricky part is many use their cell phones in various recreational activities and relieving their stress. So, its very difficult for a parent to conclude if their child is using these devices within the permissive limits. However here is the list of things one needs to look into to get a clear understanding of if one is into harmful smartphone use.
- Constant checking of cell phone withing short bursts of time
- Knowingly using the phone in prohibited areas or in potentially dangerous situations (eg: while driving, during the class hours)
- Sleep disturbances due to frequent phone checking
- Constant irresistible urges to respond immediately to messages or alerts
- Increased anxiety or irritability if the phone is not accessible or out of network coverage
- Increase use in order to cheer up their mood
- Increased use causing conflicts with family
- Withdrawing from family or any group activities in order to use smart phone
- excessive use causing negative effect on academics, family life or emotional wellbeing
If your response is ‘yes’ to most of the above listed points then the smartphone use has reached the concerning point. There are innumerable researches which has shown that excessive screen use to be related to serious mental health problems and memory issues. There is consistence evidence for associations with excessive screen time and psychiatric issues like depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and various substance or non-substance addictions. In addition, it is also related to loneliness, stress, negative emotions, impairment in attention, low inhibitory control/impulsivity, impaired working memory, reduced numerical processing capacity, and changes in social cognition.
To avoid these untoward consequences, at the very early stage of allowing ownership a parent should monitor their child’s phone use. Parents will have tremendous leverage about the rules when they own the smart phone. Better to start with lot of limitations. Teach your teens about how to use it responsibly as well as mobile phone safety. With the following agreed mutual boundaries, you may inculcate it in them:
- educate them on the potential benefits and pitfalls of screen time
- ask them to turn off the phone while driving, attending classes, during mealtime, family outing, social gathering, during sleep
- Negotiate on the acceptable time spent on cell phones
- Teach them to curb their impulses in replying to messages instantly
- Teach them to have short conversations over the phone
- Encourage them to track their daily phone use with the help of the available apps
- As parents set a good example by limiting the cell phone usage
- Being respectful on calls, messages and social media posts
- Ensuring safety of self and others while browsing online
- Restrict the cell phone use at least one hour before bed time
- Encourage them to indulge in some sort of physical or relaxing activities in a day
The best way to help your teens with responsible smart phone use is through being a Role Model to them. This means make a conscious effort in minimizing the cell phone use in front of them. Complete the phone calls when you enter the home. Spend time face to face at the end of the day when you meet up discussing your day. Set a good example to make them a noble citizen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Krithishree S S is a consultant psychiatrist in Mangalore Works at KMC Manipal Hospitals with expertise in adult psychiatric services, Addiction Psychiatry, Pain and Palliative Medicine with a special interest in Psycho-oncology.