Given the technology-driven world we live in today, it has become almost impossible to imagine a life without mobile phones or laptops. Think about it: Do you remember the last time you went an entire day without using these devices?

While electronic devices are now an essential part of human existence, the level of dependency on them has become a major concern. The fact of the matter is that we could all take steps to limit how much we use technology. However, no group is more affected by this usage than children and young adults – given that their brains are still undergoing development and are highly moldable. 

Parents and specialists have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact of excessive mobile phone usage, and of mobile phone addiction in particular.

What is mobile phone addiction?

Mobile phone addiction is a behavioural problem in which a person is unable to function in daily life without the use of this device. Researchers have compared excessive mobile phone usage to gambling addiction – suggesting that it can cause significant harm in a person’s life. 

Most young adults use their mobile phones in a positive way – to extend friendships, relax and find out new information. However, if there is no check on the time spent on these devices, young adults can miss out on learning critical skills that are picked up during face-to-face interactions. This includes reading other people’s body language and understanding how comments affect their emotions. 

Due to the on-going health crisis, given that most children and young adults are now home and remotely attending school or college, it has become increasingly convenient for them to communicate with others through their devices. While having access to such technology certainly has its advantages – including easy access to a vast body of information and the ability to connect with people from all over the world – we must be mindful of the potential harm as well.

The impact on well-being and performance

Most studies have shown that social media use in particular is linked to low self-esteem, insomnia, depression, anxiety and even stress. Peer rejection on the internet and an absence of close friends in real life are among the strongest predictors of depression and negative self-esteem.

Additionally, in some surveys, 93% of teenagers say they have witnessed cyberbullying and 33% say they have personally experienced it. This only goes to show that as we continue to engage with others online, the risk for cyber-bullying increases too.

In addition to social media usage, perhaps the most common issue with the use of mobile phones is the impact on sleep. Teenagers need on average 9.5 hours of sleep but studies show that a fifth of children in secondary school deliberately wake up at night to log on and make sure they are not missing out on anything. Moreover, the blue light emitted from electronic devices can make it harder to fall asleep at night. As a result, they often end up scrolling through social media posts for hours on end without realising the adverse impact such behaviour can have on sleep.

As they continue to engage in such unhealthy behaviours, over time, excessive use of mobile phones can even impact academic performance. 

The temptation to use mobile phones and other electronic devices typically increases when children and young adults have to study for exams or spend extended periods of time at home. On one hand, children often require the use of technology to communicate with their peers and stay up to date with what’s going on in the world. However, on the other hand, excessive use of mobile phones and other devices can lead to poor academic performance and reduced productivity. This is because despite having access to educational-related content, children and young adults are often drawn to playing mobile games, chatting with friends or watching videos online. It gets even worse when parents yell or punish their children for doing this as it then encourages them to engage in such behaviours behind their parents’ back. 

In the past, scientists believed that the brain was fully developed by the mid-teens. However, the consensus amongst neuroscientists now is that the brain continues developing until about the age of 25 and potentially until 30. All your behaviours and experiences have the potential to impact your developing brain well into your mid to late 30s. 

Stress in particular (which many young people experience from excessive internet use), makes a significant mark on the brain. It negatively impacts the way emotions are processed and memories are formed. Additionally, excessive reliance on mobile devices can make the brain lazy – impairing one’s creative and analytical skills. This is because the internet gives you access to unlimited amounts of information that can be easily accessed without having to even move from the bed.

What parents can do

While there is no clear guideline on how long one must spend with their electronics, there are a number of things that can be done to ensure that your child is not only limiting the time spent on their mobile phone, but is also not misusing the time that they do spend on their devices.

Set clear boundaries

If you find that your child is excessively using their phone, it’s important to set some ground rules. For instance, you can allow your child to use their phone for 1 or 2 hours once they have completed their homework for the day. On the weekends, you can allow them to use their devices for a longer time. In this way, your child won’t feel deprived of their phone – but at the same time, they will have certain boundaries to respect.

Plant reminders around the house

It’s equally important that instructions about time spent on mobile phones and other devices are placed clearly in a communal area of the house for your children to see as reminders. You can make this more enjoyable for kids by creating fun posters.  You can even involve them in the process and give out a reward for the most creative poster.

Maintain a phone diary

If you’re concerned about your child being addicted to their phone, it’s important to address it in a patient and rational manner with them. If you want, you can even keep a diary to track how long they spend on their mobile phone each day. If their usage is excessive in the week, reduce this to a sensible amount and ensure that your child does not use their phone until homework is completed.

Educate yourself as their caregiver

Something that can help you manage your child’s consumption of technology is to become a computer literate yourself. The more you know about mobile phones and the internet, the more you can make use of them positively and understand how to keep your children safe while they use them. If you do not keep up, your child will easily be able to outwit you – choosing whatever they wish to access without your knowledge.

Talk to them about safety measures

At times, your child may do something without realising the negative consequences of their behaviour. It’s important that you have a conversation with them about cyber-bullying and accessing appropriate content on the internet. Educating your child instead of punishing them for doing something wrong will ensure that they don’t repeat the same mistake again.

Spend more time with them

Make it a point to have family movie or game nights where everyone keeps their mobile phones away. During this time, you can do some quizzes, solve a puzzle or even play some board games together. As you spend more time with them, your children will also begin to feel more connected to you.

Create a safe space

If your child is experiencing an emotional difficulty or encounters anything uncomfortable online, encourage them to come and talk to you. When they do open up to you, make sure you listen to them without passing any judgement. This will help them realise that they do not always need to turn to the internet for answers and can even feel reassured by coming to you.

While you may not be able to stop their usage completely, we hope that these strategies will help you ensure healthy use of the time your child spends online. A little trial and error might be involved, so remember to be patient and gentle with them.