How many of you take your phone into the bathroom? Keep your head down as you walk through a store? Check your phone while you’re talking or “listening” to another person? Not picking up your head as you walk up or down the stairs? Ever find yourself talking on the phone while also madly searching for where you put it?
Do any of these experiences resonate with you?
You are not alone! Mental Health America says, “If you are like 91% of Americans, you keep your mobile device within reach 24 hours a day.”
I’ve encountered all of these situations. I have been known to respond almost immediately to a text, email, call, post, or comment. In fact, if I don’t respond within an hour, people get suspicious and are ready to send out the search team.
I started to think about how technology can make us unendingly available and the impact devices can have on mental health. Recent findings suggest a correlation between smartphones and teen depression and how cell phones are affecting communication.
As an adult, I started to observe how cell phones are impacting parent-child relationships within my own family and how being mindful with our smartphones can improve relationships.
After noticing how often I check my cell phone and recognizing how these behaviors impact my own mood and relationships, I made small changes and noticed positive effects in my own life.
I invite you to keep reading to learn how smartphones are impacting adolescent mental health and what parents can do to model mindful behavior with cell phones to help improve kids’ mental health.
What Does Research Say?
NPR found a new study that states teenagers are increasingly depressed, feel hopeless and are more likely to consider suicide. Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study, said that researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time smartphones become popular.
Adolescents are not spending as much time with their friends in person nor face to face with family. Teens aren’t getting the connection and social support they need. NPR said, ”Spending time with other people, in person, is one of the best predictions for psychological well-being.”
Rarely is one’s mood enhanced by scrolling through social media, looking through emails, continuously texting, or aimlessly opening different apps. In fact, for me the opposite is true. Often my heart will beat faster, I feel more stressed and anxious and can’t remember what task I was working on.
Adolescents dependence on smartphones is only growing. Teens’ cell phone addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When we interact with our device, dopamine, a hormone that signals pleasure, is released. Dopamine passes information to the front of the brain which is linked to thought and emotion.
There’s a cyclical process that takes place. Teens are asking to be “liked” and “seen” but those feelings of belonging are short-term and they continue the checking and posting process over and over, never truly being satisfied.
Have you ever had the experience of sending an email or a text and then ruminating about the tone and words used? The anxiety kids experience can lead them to checking their phone over and over to see if they received a response to a message. That response doesn’t always come, leaving kids anxious, angry, frustrated, rejected, or ignored.
Relationships and Communication
Millennials have changed the way they interact and the smartphone generation continues to enable and shape how teens interface. Though we are living in 2018 and text messaging and email are often a convenient way to contact someone, there are also challenges with these modes of communication. Many of the nuances that exist with communication via electronics can lead to misinterpretations of intent and conflict in relationships because of assumptions made.
Having a mindful relationship begins with having awareness. Ask yourself these questions:
• Are your teens using their phones to avoid experiencing discomfort?
• Are these acts facilitating interactions and activity that stands in the way of better mental health?
• Is the constant phone checking taking away from teenagers sleeping better, seeing friends, and family?
Consider the possibility that by disconnecting, parents and kids can actually connect. There is an opportunity for you as a parent to model mindful behaviors with your own phone and become more present for your children. Kids may then embrace their own opportunities to communicate effectively, enhance relationships, and find the value in presence.
Mary Waldon, LCSW said, “We want to raise our awareness and be more mindful about our behaviors.” She goes on to say that the last thing we want to do is attach judgments to behaviors since it creates a cycle of shame.
Constant phone checking is automatic and familiar and may even be a routine. It is important to remember that modifying behavior takes time, and each moment is an opportunity to change.
As a parent, you can help your teen become more mindful of their phone behaviors.
You can encourage teens to think about the intent and purpose prior to sending a message. If kids find themselves sending off a message to regulate an emotion or settle an impulse, encourage them to check in and ask themselves, “Should I be sending this right now?”
If the answer is no, perhaps this is a moment for them to utilize their device for a guided meditation, look at one of their favorite photos, or listen to their favorite song.
As a parent, you can model mindful phone use and make small changes that can help teens improve relationships and emotional health.
8 Things You Can Change About Your Phone Behavior
• Don’t look at your phone for the first 15 minutes of waking up
• Before checking your phone, ask yourself, “Do I want or need to check this right now?”
• Put your phone away when traveling to or from your destination
• Set aside 1 hour during the day to be phone free
• Silence or turn off your phone 1 hour before bed-time (nighttime is an especially beneficial time to be mindful of phone usage)
• When walking from one place to another, keep your phone in your pocket or bag
• Change app settings on your phone to only use wifi which automatically limits usage
• Avoid multitasking – focus on one thing at a time (if you are using your phone, make sure it’s the only thing you’re doing)
There are times when phones are not needed and we can practice utilizing these moments to connect, be present for your kids, appreciate the freeing feeling and notice your surroundings.
For me, being mindful about how I use my phone is a daily challenge, and I can confidently say it is worth it. Ultimately, being more aware can create a more mindful relationship with oneself and others. I hope that you and your kids will choose one idea to implement to be more mindful with your phones and improve mental health.
Any questions? Have a tip of your own? Please share and comment below-we would love to hear from you!
For more information about helping your child with mental health download our parent handbook on childhood and teen depression.
Shira Lichtenstein, M.A. Psychology, is our Social Media Coordinator. She is currently pursuing a Masters in social work at The University of Chicago. Shira oversees social media communication and uses different platforms to help spread our message and promote our curricula for depression education. Shira’s background includes working with families, schools and adolescents. Shira is passionate about mental health issues and strongly believes that given the right tools and resources, anyone can improve their mental health.