If the grid went down today and your cell phone was only as good as a paperweight, would you panic? Some people are so used to feeling “connected” through electronics, mental health professionals say the smartphone age has brought with it new addictions and mental disorders.
“Technology was originally developed to keep us more interactive; however, it almost feels like it’s taking up all of (our) time,” says Dr. Jenny Yip, a psychologist with the Renewed Freedom Center, who specializes in OCD and anxiety disorders.
Using smartphones and laptops for e-mail, social media, tweets, and Facebook posts seems to be making us “connection dependent,” Yip explains. According to a recent South Korean study, our technology addiction has led to a type of digital dementia, even in young children.
“Over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain,” said Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul. Gi-won states that emotional under-development has been seen in children ages 10-19 who use smart phones more than seven hours a day. Symptoms include memory problems, shortened attention span and “emotional flattening,” a dulling of the ability to express emotion and feel connection.
The fact that it’s related to technology overuse is no surprise to Dr. Yip, who says that parents rely on “electronic babysitters” such as television, smartphones and tablets, and game systems to entertain children when they don’t have the energy. So, how much screen time is too much for kids and their parents?
“A great way to test whether you’re having too much screen time is to go without it,” she challenges. “Go a week without it and see what happens. Are you going through withdrawals? Are you able to find something else to do with that spare time? Are you completely bored out of your mind because you don’t know what else to do with yourself?”
“If you’re experiencing any one of these conditions, you probably are having too much screen time.”
Here are a few common telltale signs you or your kids are suffering the effects of too much screen time, and need to unplug.
1. Thinking you’ve lost your cell phone leads to feelings of intense fear.
You feel restless when not logged on; you break out in a cold sweat if someone suggests you turn your iPad off, and you panic when you realize you can’t text someone, “OMG! Lost my cell phone!”
2. You find yourself frequently checking for social media notifications and texts—so much so, others take notice.
You find yourself checking your devices instead of engaging the people around you, or you get the itch to check your phone while in social situations. If friends notice your clammy complexion and obsessive pocket-checking, you may have a problem.