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Nomophobia: a new problem

Riddhi Andurkar, Managing Editor, Features Columnist

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Imagine a family gathering or party. The adults are seated in the living room, socializing. The room is filled with laughter and conversation.

Just next door are the kids … “socializing.” This room is in complete contrast to the living room. Filled with deafening silence, there is not one word spoken. All of the kids have their eyes glued to a screen. Although all these people are in the same room, not a single one of them is choosing to directly interact with others around. Instead, they keep to themselves and continue to interact with their phones.

This is the scene at every single family party I go to. Almost all teenagers are on their phones, scrolling through social media feeds until the silence is finally broken when a parent walks into the room to announce that dinner is ready.

I didn’t get a cell phone until I was about 16. Before 16, I was the person who was constantly trying to break that silence in the room, desperately trying to interact with my peers, much to their annoyance.

Even after I got a smartphone, I never considered myself an addict.

Unlike my childhood, which was filled with human interaction, children today are practically born with a phone, or sometimes, multiple devices in their hands. Often, young working parents are too tired after returning home from work and will use their phones or the television to keep their child engaged.

I believe this is where the problem starts.

Just the other day, I was at a restaurant with my family and seated next to us, was a family with a one year old girl. She was watching a kids show on her parents phone. When her mom blocked the screen for a second to feed her a bite of food, she started screaming, crying and squirming, desperately trying to get a view of the screen. The moment her mom took her hand away, the girl sat quietly, eyes once again glued to the phone screen.

These are the kids who become phone addicts and cannot go a single day without checking text messages, emails or social media. They also tend to lack the social skills to directly interact with others.

Common Sense Media conduted a poll relating to the use of cell phones in 2016. The study involved 1,240 interviews with parents and their kids ranging from ages 12 to 18. According to CNN, analysts found that 50 percent of teens said that they feel like they are addicted to their mobile phone and that 59 percent of the parents said that they feel their teens are addicted to their phones.

Seventy-eight percent of these teens interviewed stated that they feel the need to check their phone every hour.

CNN uses a term “NoMoPhoBia,” which stands for No Mobile Phone Phobia. When teens feel nomophobia, they fear that they will not be able to use their mobile phones and that they may miss out on something important. In 2010, one in three teens checked their phone while driving as a result of nomophobia. Considering how much we rely on smartphones, I expect this number has increased significantly. Nomophobia in teens therefore leads to car crashes, many of them fatal.

It’s not the teens’ fault that they are addicted to their devices, however. It happens because we as a society have begun to depend on phones for everything. Just like we found a way to depend on phones, we must find ways to slowly move away from them.

In the Common Sense Media poll, it was found that 69 percent of the parents interviewed also feel the need to check their phone every hour. Twenty-eight percent of the kids stated that their parents are addicted to their phones. However, only 27 percent of parents admitted they were addicted to their phones. Majority of the surveyed parents themselves don’t accept the fact that they are also attached to their phones.

Parents influence their kids more than external factors. It is important that parents also slowly decrease their smartphone use. Fifty-two percent of the parents interviewed stated that they are trying to decrease their use of phones and electronic devices.

Another solution is to establish house rules for cell phone use, requiring everyone to turn off their phones during dinner, parties and other social events.

I have heard some parents take the drastic measure of requiring teens to completely delete social media apps from their phones and only check them on laptops so that instead of spending an unlimited amount of time on the phone, they will now spend limited time on their laptop. I have social media apps on my phone, but I rarely open them. Instead, I check them once daily on my laptop. This is probably why I am not addicted to my smartphone.

The “down time” gained by staying off the cell phones must be filled with other meaningful activities. The time can be used to engage in fun-filled family activities. The benefit of stepping away from the digital world is that the mind will be less distracted and you will be more engaged with your physical surrounding enjoying whatever you are doing now, in the present moment!

Wean yourself from that cell phone. You will get something invaluable in return. Trust me, it feels great. I can say that from experience.

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