Do you get more excited about checking your Instagram feed than you do checking in with your spouse each day? Do you feel a sense of anxiety if you are without your phone? Or, perhaps you find yourself wishing your child wrap up his or her story so you can get back to writing your brilliant comment online? If so, you, well-intentioned, lovely, awesome parent — not your child — could very well be the guilty one when it comes to too much screen time.
We can rationalize (or rather, defend) our tech use all day long. We need to be online for our work (no work, no food, no housing, right?). We need to check in with family members. We need to digitally supervise our kids if they are out of the house. All of these are great uses of technology but when does responsible use slip into one more excuse to be connected to our tech?
Online addictions such as video gambling, pornography, shopping, and various forms of gaming that include living in “alternate” or “virtual worlds” have increasingly hit the headlines in our now fully wired culture.
Also, research shows that people with an Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) have noticeable changes in their brains that are similar to the changes happening in the brains of individuals addicted to cocaine, heroine, and other drugs. Along with cases of addiction (such as alcohol, gambling, or sex), Internet addiction also runs the gamut of severity. However, as more and more research emerges on the brain, Internet addiction as a mental disorder may soon be commonplace.
According to The Center for Internet Addiction, meeting five of the following eight symptoms could indicate you’ve got a more serious problem.
1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about a previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement on the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
Other symptoms may include:
• Failed attempts to control behavior
• Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities
• Neglecting friends and family
• Neglecting sleep to stay online
• Being dishonest with others
• Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
• Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
• Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities
Tips to curb your tech
Treatment varies with the degree of the addiction. With the increase of tech addiction, IAD treatment programs can be found under the umbrella of various rehab programs.
- Keep phone away from the bed. Sleep habits and focus can be impacted if you sleep with your phone by the bed. Try putting your phone in another room and staying off it for the first hour of your day.
- Keep your phone away from work area. If you always check your phone during work, try keeping it in your briefcase or desk drawer. Commit to checking it at specific times. This tactic is tough for parents with kids in school. However, by checking your texts at 10, 2 and 4, you may find yourself safe from the other mobile temptations on your phone such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Time Limits: Most experts agree, that limiting time online and even implementing filtering software can be a positive first step to a balanced digital life. This includes taking frequent breaks, pursuing outside activities and exercise, seeking out friends who spend little time online and establishing a reasonable schedule for Internet use. If the case is severe, and online behavior has resulted with more damaging consequences, it is recommended that you seek professional help immediately to restore a healthy life balance.
- Get an accountability partner. If you have a hunch that your tech is negatively impacting your relationships and life, ask a friend for help. Talk through your tech use (including fails, temptations, observations, and successes), put guidelines in place, and have a check-in system with your accountability partner.
- Commit to people, not devices. A technology addiction is not sudden. It’s a slow, subtle emotional take over of your attention and priorities. For this reason, it’s important to be intentional with your time and relationships. Make face-to-face meetings with friends and family a priority. Out of respect, keep your phone in the car or out of sight during your time together. Keep a journal of what you observe about your new, less-tech, or even tech-free schedule.
- Model self-control. As parents it’s easy to forget that our kids are looking on all the time. Be a role model of self control for your kids. If you can go into a movie theater or to an amusement park sans your mobile phone, they will follow suit.
A 2015 study from Iowa State University has identified some of the core aspects of what it calls nomophobia — that’s “no mobile phone” phobia. Researchers put together a 20-question survey that measures your level of smartphone dependence.
Rate each item on a scale of 1 (“completely disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”) and tally up your total score to find out.
- I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
- I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
- Being unable to get the news (e.g., happenings, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.
- I would be annoyed if I could not use my smartphone and/or its capabilities when I wanted to do so.
- Running out of battery on my smartphone would scare me.
- If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.
- If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to Wi-Fi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a Wi-Fi network.
- If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
- If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel the desire to check it.
- If I did not have my smartphone with me …
- I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.
- I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.
- I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.
- I would be anxious because I could not keep in touch with my family and/or friends.
- I would be nervous because I could not know if someone had tried to get a hold of me.
- I would feel anxious because my constant connection to my family and friends would be broken.
- I would be nervous because I would be disconnected from my online identity.
- I would be uncomfortable because I could not stay up-to-date with social media and online networks.
- I would feel awkward because I could not check my notifications for updates from my connections and online networks.
- I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.
- I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.How did you score?
20: Not at all nomophobic. You have a very healthy relationship with your device and have no problem being separated from it.
21-60: Mild nomophobia. You get a little antsy when you forget your phone at home for a day or get stuck somewhere without WiFi, but the anxiety isn’t too overwhelming.
61-100: Moderate nomophobia. You’re pretty attached to your device. You often check for updates while you’re walking down the street or talking to a friend, and you often feel anxious when you’re disconnected.
101-120: Severe nomophobia. You can barely go for 60 seconds without checking your phone. It’s the first thing you check in the morning and the last at night, and dominates most of your activities in-between.