Technology’s role in shaping us
Adolescence, or an individual’s transition to adulthood, occurs between the ages of thirteen and eighteen years old (Berk, 2014). Their development is shaped by their biological, psychological, social, and environmental contexts. Technology, specifically smart phones and social networking applications, play a vital role in the modern teenager’s life. Although there is great academic interest on the effects of this technology on the adolescent, not much research has been conducted thus far. However, from what research has been done, a new phobia or disorder has been identified, called “nomophobia.” The term, nomophobia, is an abbreviation for no-mobile-phone phobia, and it was first coined during a study conducted in 2010 by the UK Post Office to investigate anxieties mobile phone users suffer (Yildirim & Correia, 2015).
A study from Iowa State University, that further built upon research conducted on nomophobia by the University of Missouri, has identified some of the central aspects of nomophobia and was able to create a 20-question survey measuring iPhone codependence (Yildirim & Correia, 2015). After giving the test to over 300 undergraduate students, they found that being separated from your iPhone can have a real psychological and physiological effect, including impaired thinking. “iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” stated Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate and the study’s lead author (Yildirim & Correia, 2015).
This generational change and commonality of smartphones explains why nomophobia is not only prevalent in so many young adults, but individuals of all ages. Smartphones make it possible to perform a variety of daily tasks in one device, including, but not limited to calling and texting people, checking and sending email messages, scheduling appointments, surfing the Internet, shopping, access to social networking sites, searching for information on the Internet, gaming, entertainment, etc. (Valkenberg, & Schouten, 2006). According to Valkenberg, et. al (2006), previous studies have shown that smartphones may cause compulsive checking habits, that smartphones may lead to compulsive usage and increased distress, and can be addictive. The study by the UK Post Office in 2010 compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on par with those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist (Yildirim & Correia, 2015).
The 2012 study found out that women were more susceptible to nomophobia, with 70% of the women compared to 61% of the men expressing feelings of anxiety about losing their phone or not being able to use their phone (Hormes & Timnko, 2014). In terms of the relationship between age and nomophobia, the study found that young adults, aged 18–24 were most prone to nomophobia with 77% of them identified as nomophobic, followed by users aged 25–34 at 68%. Lastly, mobile phone users in the 55 and over age group were found to be the third most nomophobic users.
Nomophobia is prevalent amongst youth
According to a study conducted by Nikhita (2015), research indicates that teenagers are far more susceptible to become dependent on mobile phones as compared to adults. “Studies show that “Mobile Phone Dependency” in adolescents interferes with their school and personal activities, and leads the teenagers to develop social and relationship problems” (Nikhita, 2015, p. 7). There has been an upward swing in the younger age groups with increasing trend of use of mobile phones among students, which indicates that nomophobia is heavily on the rise and more research must be conducted in order to see the other effects it will have on the adolescents’ development.
The National Survey of Young Australians 2012 survey conducted by Mission Australia found that the top five teenage issues are: stress management, school pressure, body image, family conflict, and depression (Hormes & Timnko, 2014). By adolescents being continuously plugged into their cell phones, research indicates that these problems will only be exacerbated. Teenagers are prone to moodiness, desiring acceptance from their peers, and societal pressure that is perpetrated by the media (Berk, 2014). With constant access to social networking sites, they are able to draw social comparisons to not only themselves and other peers—but unrealistic and idealistic “celebrity” personas.
Proliferation of Social Media is central
Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites, with over one billion users worldwide and 864 million daily active users on average (Bragazzi & Puente, 2014). Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and many other social networking applications enable users to create to profile, to share personal information, to add contact information, to share photos, to chat, and create events. (Nadkarni & Hoffman, 2012). While the creators of these social networking applications make a valid point that their sites help users stay connected with distant friends and family, catch up on news, and share their personal views—it seems that the detrimental effects outweigh the positive effects.
While students have several motives for connecting on social media networks such as passing time, sexual attraction, social connection, shared identities, social investigation, social network surfing, status updating, relationship maintenance, entertainment and information seeking (Valkenberg, & Schouten, 2006)—it’s important to note whether or not this open access of communication is worth it.
According to Elmore (2014),
“Sixty-five percent, or about two in three people, sleep with or next to their smart phones. (Among college students, it’s even higher). Thirty-four percent admitted to answering their cell phone during intimacy with their partner. One in five people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone. More than half never switch off their phone, [and] a full 66 percent of all adults suffer from “nomophobia.””
Research and treatment
Since little research has been conducted on nomophobia, even though there was a petition by Bragazzi & Giovanni (2014) to include it in the DSM-V, there is not much history of treatment. Currently, group therapy and psychoeducational modeling have been the two most prevalent types of treatment. In group therapy, clients are instructed to leave their mobile devices out of their reach and are not allowed to touch them for the entire session. They also undergo a variety of exercises that allow them to be “in the moment,” and connect with one another. One of the greatest fears is that nomophobia will lead to a disconnect in true human interaction and real life experiences (Nikhita, 2015).
Psychoeducational modeling includes educators, counselors, and mental health facilitators adopting a “practicing” what they preach mentality and informing their clients of healthy habits to help aid their addictive behaviors. According to Elmore (2014), it is vital to encourage clients to have daily times when they turn off their cell phones and experience either face-to-face interactions, or remain in solitude. He also suggests balancing an equal amount of phone time with in-person time weekly. Another method is to challenge clients to try a “technology fast” where they must go at least twenty-four hours without using any form of technology. A frequent challenge is also to put your phone at least fifteen feet away from you when you sleep at night—even if you use it as an alarm. Finally, he suggests structuring your day into time zones—where there is designated time for technology and organic, in person, human interaction.
This topic is of great importance to me for several reasons. Adolescents are at risk for so many problematic issues since they are at such a vulnerable age including but not limited to, body dysmorphia, having a distorted self-image, becoming sexualized too early, developing eating disorders, cyber bullying, and not having organic human experiences. I felt these pressures as an adolescent and they ultimately manifested themselves into an eating disorder. I had a distorted self-perception of myself where I felt that I had to project a “perfect” image to the world. Today, that pressure is even greater as teenagers have far easier access to unrealistic body ideals.
This pressure is something with which I am able to identify and empathize, even as an adult. I myself, have struggled with my weight since high school—but I never thought it was a problem, because it was so widely accepted to have unhealthy eating habits in order to be thin. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school, where it was normal for us to go on “liquid diets,” to sit in the library during lunch to avoid temptation, and to see who could lose weight the quickest. It is definitely a “pack mentality” that I fear is exacerbated by social networking sites on smartphones. Even at my thinnest, I still had a distorted perception of my body. I could still pick out flaws, and thought that I was much larger than I was. If teenagers are constantly checking how their peers look and act on social media, as well as their celebrity idols, I cannot even imagine the insecurities they must deal with. Even when I believed that I had “control” over my weight, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and became obese. I was shocked. My primary care physician told me I was at risk for diabetes, heart disease, etc. I merely thought that I had finally gotten a healthy perspective on eating and food—that being that I should not care about body ideals, and societal expectations.
Ultimately, I believe that far more research needs to be conducted on this important issue. In order for us, as mental health practitioners, to be able to properly treat our patients, as well as help ourselves. We need to fully understand the illness and its ramifications first.
M.S. Candidate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Johns Hopkins University
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Bragazzi, N., & Puente, G.D. (2014). A proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-V. Psychology Research and Behavior Management PRBM, 155.
Elmore, T. (2014, September 18). Nomophobia: A Rising Trend in Students. Retrieved January 13, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/artificial-maturity/201409/nomophobia-rising-trend-in-students
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