Nomophobia: The Fear Of Being Without Your Phone

“Please get off your phone!” “Are you still on YouTube?”

How many times must we say the sentences above to our children? Every day at least. It’s an increasingly frustrating feature of nearly every household with children or teenagers.

Every parent I speak to has the same problem – not their children spending time on technology but the amount of time and the need to be online or engaged in some way with a screen.

Nomophobia – the fear of being without your mobile phone, a ‘working’ mobile phone. Nomophobia is sometimes referred to as a behavioural addiction. In fact, some psychologists say nomophobia shares similar characteristics with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Smartphones were designed to be addictive. However, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion but rather the games, apps and online worlds it connects us to. Like the use of drugs and alcohol, smartphones can trigger the release of the brain chemical dopamine causing your mood to change. You can rapidly build up tolerance so that it takes more and more time in front of these screens to derive the same pleasurable reward.

According to a study conducted by CNN, teenagers who check their social networking accounts between 50-100 times a day become more stressed (37%) than others. When the count becomes higher, the stress level increases. 92% of teens who use social networking applications check their accounts daily and 24% tend to check them constantly in short intervals. This was backed up by a show of hands from both Wallace, one of our girls’ day houses, and Atlas, one of our boys’ boarding houses, here at MCM when they were given an assembly on nomophobia and asked the same question about checking their social media.

Around 88% of people use smartphones and around 95% of smartphones are used every day. But are we in control of it? Many of us reach for our phones shortly after waking, while younger age groups are known to find it hard to put their phones down at night. 40% reported they think they overuse their smartphones, yet most don’t do anything about it. Some studies have said that children who spend more time on screens seem less happy than those who play sports, read or socialise face-to-face instead. Guidance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommends that screens are avoided for an hour before bedtime.

There is no magic solution to getting our sons and daughters to spend less time on technology and spend more time doing other activities, such as sport, music, school work, reading a book or helping with chores. There are 6.64 billion smartphone users on the planet today. Research reveals that 71% of smartphone users actually sleep with their device and 93% of young people admit to using their phones on the toilet! About one-third of smartphone users never turn their phones off – when was the last time you turned your phone off (and not just to reboot it)?

We should look at our own usage first and foremost. Do we pretend we are working? Have we checked out our own screen time usage? Could we set better examples? The goal should be to cut back to more healthy levels of use for everyone. Apart from just removing technology, which parents have had to resort to, there are some tips we can all try and encourage our children to do ( Perhaps take one at a time and work on it:

  • Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, you might schedule use for certain times of day, or you could reward yourself with a certain amount of time on your phone once you’ve completed a homework assignment or finished a chore, for instance.
  • Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym and having dinner (no phones at the table). Wallace Day House has voted to adopt ‘No Phone Thursday’ when the girls do not use their smartphones during their day at school. Sheppard House has a similar No Tech Thursday, which is no tech in the dayroom.
  • Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. The blue light emitted by the screens can disrupt your sleep if used within two hours of bedtime. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge. Instead of reading eBooks on your phone or tablet at night, pick up a book. You’ll not only sleep better but research shows you’ll also remember more of what you’ve read. Leave all electronic devices on charge downstairs. It’s easier once it becomes a non-negotiable!
  • Remove social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and the like from your computer, and remember: what you see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives—people exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing over the doubts and disappointments that we all experience. Spending less time comparing yourself unfavourably to these airbrushed representations can help to boost your mood and sense of self-worth.
  • Limit checks. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. If you need help, there are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
  • Put it in your bag or pocket when walking around, so you can appreciate the world or other people around you and ensure you are aware of traffic.
  • Turn off non-human notifications.
  • Grayscale your screen.
  • Restrict your home screen to everyday tools.
  • Curb your fear of missing out. Accept that, by limiting your smartphone use, you’re likely going to miss out on certain invitations, breaking news, or new gossip. There is so much information available on the internet, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of everything, anyway. Accepting this can be liberating and help break your reliance on technology.

It’s as much about how you use your phone as how often you use it. So, despite our handsets representing the very pinnacle of modern technology, perhaps it’s an old adage that should guide us: everything in moderation. Ask yourself, what is genuinely worth your attention on an uninterrupted basis? Afterall, technology should be a servant, not a master.

Sam Baker, HM of Wallace, Business Studies, Politics


What is Nomophobia?

Smartphone and Internet Addiction

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