Seventeen-year-old Riya was grappling with a number of health issues since last few months. She was suffering from insomnia and was perpetually depressed. Fortunately, her mother who was a psychologist recognized the red flags, when she noticed a number of changes in the behavior of her teenage daughter, who was otherwise jovial and spirited.

When her mother intervened and took her to a therapist, it was revealed that her depression stemmed out from having poor body image. Her smartphone history divulged that she had been following zero figure models on social media and was also trolled on Facebook by her classmates. Riya’s mother was caught unaware and she could not fathom as to how a mere smartphone was the cause of her daughter’s mental distress. 

The Web of Smartphones and Social Media

Parents all over the world are faced with this new predicament that is harrowing teenagers and posing threat to their mental well being. The advent of any new technology always brings with it multiple pitfalls and it would not be an exaggeration to say that smartphones have taken the world by storm. In no time they have become an integral and indispensable part of our lives. Smartphones, in turn, lead one to the world of social media which is an alley of virtual reality with endless possibilities. Social media portals like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc have accorded new meaning to the world of communication. But, they have also created a parallel world wherein everyone aims to be deemed ‘perfect’.

Excessive smartphone usage can result in teenagers succumbing to cyberbullying, online gaming addiction (even macabre ones like the recent ‘Blue Whale’ game which took many young lives) and pornography.

Adolescents and Smart Phone Usage- Facts and figures

The smartphone market in India is flourishing in leaps and bounds owing to the number of teens possessing these newly launched smartphones endowed with numerous features.  There has been a rapid rise in the percentage of smartphone-using adolescents falling in the age group of 16-18 years, from 5% in 2012 to 25% by 2014 in India.It is a global phenomenon and as per the International Telecommunication Union, the Smartphone penetration rate in the U.S. was 51% till 2013. The gravity of the addiction towards smartphones can be gauged by the fact that a new term called Nomophobia has come into being which means- The fear of being without your phone.

Implication of Smartphones on Young Brains

Research has linked smartphone with a surge in feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, GABA. The surge of these neurochemicals drive compulsive devise usage and promote feelings of distraction, fatigue or irritability, anxiety and drowsiness. Due to phone usage, the kids are losing their ability to focus, empathize and form judgments.  Further, young brains cannot fathom the enormity of any situation as the neocortex is not fully developed until the early to mid-twenties. That is why adolescents tend to be so impulsive. They simply do not have the full brain structure by which their impulsiveness can be modulated or regulated. Therefore, parental guidance and support are absolutely imperative during the teen and young adult years.

Smartphones Impact The Mental Health of Teenagers

Dr.Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology and author of the book ‘i-Gen’ dwells on the subject as to how today’s teens though ‘connected’ are unhappy and more prone towards developing mental health issues. This conclusion was based on a research she undertook, wherein by collecting data from more than 50,000 adolescents she found out that those who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less.

What can be done?

In this era of technology and constant connectivity, it is crucial to hold one’s ground, take a deep breath thereby never losing your footing. Parents can help their kids never fall into the pit of not just smartphone but any kind of addiction. All they need to do is stick to responsible and vigilant parenting:

Create ‘No Smartphone’ zones

By creating ‘no smartphone zones’, like exempting using phones in washrooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchen, parents can set limits thereby reducing ‘phone hours’.

Keeping communication channels open

It is pivotal to keep your communication channels open when raising teenagers. Parents ought to be transparent and receptive while dealing with teenagers. If they come across as extremely authoritative, the children would never confide in them when it comes to things like online bullying, cyber crimes and other sorts of distress caused in the virtual world.

Keep a vigil on the phone/internet usage

Your teenagers should know that you are keeping an eye on their internet usage and time spent on smartphones. Parental control apps, locks, and firewalls would help to keep track of teenage activities on the internet. Consequently, they will think twice before overdoing it thereby not falling prey to smartphone addiction.

Involve them and gradually cut down on phone hours

As per a research, almost 44% teens believe that they spent too much time on their smartphones. So, parents should take charge and together collaborate with their teens to limit their phone hours by introducing them to other recreational activities like sports, music. Also, help them discover joy in the most mundane things like going for a walk, cycling with your friends, talking face to face with pals and so on. Understand that you can only lead by example. If you yourself are constantly over phones, you would not have the moral ground to discipline your kids.

Educational institutions should take charge

Teenagers spend the majority of their time in schools and colleges. So, it is the moral responsibility of these institutions to be a pioneer and hold workshops that educate students on the adverse effects of smartphone addiction and ways to come out of it.

Seek help

Be on a lookout for red flags in your teen’s behavior. The tendency to withdraw, brood, erratic mood swings call for action. In such cases, parents should not hesitate from seeking professional help and opting for rehabilitation of their child.  

Teens are the leaders of tomorrow. For them to become responsible, happy and healthy individuals, it is essential to focus on both their physical as well as mental well being. Addiction of any kind is a vice and acts as a deterrent to one’s growth. Thus, it is high time we acknowledge that smartphones impact the mental health of teenagers and cause addiction. It is our cardinal duty as parents and society to create a safe and happy environment for raising happy teenagers.