“Cellphone addiction” – What can we do?

Recently, the New York Post published an article about screen and smartphone addiction and how it is like a drug:  It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras a psychotherapist with years of experience treating addiction wrote the article which instantly went viral.  He charged that smartphones, among other things are a form of a “digital drug.”

While scientifically this may be true, I think Dr. Kardaras is exaggerating just a bit in calling smartphones a “drug.”  Or is he?

I don’t think we are at the stage yet where you can call smartphones or ipads a drug, but reading this, it makes sense now why it is so difficult for parents to peel away a smartphone or ipad from their kids.

Looking at smartphones as an addiction helps explain so many of the behaviors we see in our kids: the overwhelming urge to check their phones all the time, temper tantrums when their phones are taken away, shorter attention spans when we they use their phones, and a withdrawal from social interactions for the benefit of “playing” with their phones.

And let’s be honest. It’s not just a problem among kids. Maybe as adults we are better equipped to handle the “addiction.” We don’t throw temper tantrums when our phones are taken away but people often describe the feeling that “a part of them is missing” when they are separated from their phones.

And all the other addiction symptoms pretty much apply too.

The other day I read another article about how in South Korea there are now lanes for cell phone users so they don’t bump into people when they text on their phones – that seems like a pretty major addiction to me if you can’t even walk down the street without looking down on your phone.

When I hear things like that it makes me feel like the situation might already be hopeless – like we really are destined to end up floating around on chairs interacting through screens like in the movie Wall-E.  Ok maybe that’s another exaggeration, but you get my point.

Since we first started Pause over a year ago, with the intent to “do something about it” I’ve learned a few things:

The problem of smartphone usage and addiction is a much, much bigger problem than I originally thought and people are aware of the problem.  Dr. Kardaras’s article is just one of dozens and dozens out there.  But as time passes we are becoming more and more indifferent to it.

Even though there’s a lot of talk about it, nobody is actually doing anything about it on a grand scale and even worse most of us choose to disregard it on the personal level.

From my point of view doing nothing is the worst thing! It seems that for many of us it’s easier to disregard the problem and say: “It’s not that bad at my house” or “It’ll eventually pass when my kids grow up…”

I know that dealing with this uneasy subject is daunting for many, and self-denial is an easier way to go but we need to address the problem and the obvious question is what can be done about it?

Dr. Kardaras explains that once a child “crosses the line into addiction,” the only “cure” is a full digital detox – meaning no smartphones, ipads, computers or even TV- lasting four to six weeks .  That’s a bit extreme and unrealistic to say the least.

He acknowledges that too and says the best way to prevent addiction is: don’t let your kids get hooked on screens to begin with.

Sounds pretty simple and straightforward.  But it’s easier said than done!

So here is some food for thought: Children learn by copying adults. When they see adults clutching their smartphones at every occasion they start to think that is acceptable behavior.

As adults we have to set the example.  There is no “right solution” to combatting phone addiction, (though most experts agree that sitting down for a family dinner without smartphones is a great way to start).

The most important thing is to start doing something!  Put your phones away for half an hour every day and spend quality time with your kids or your friends or co-workers or whoever!

You’re already aware of the problem.  We all are. So set the example!