Our world is advancing rapidly towards another new technology age. With computers in our pockets all day long it was only a matter of time until we became so dependant on them that the thought of losing them is one of our greatest fears. Researchers are finding that that time has come. Results released last week from a study done by Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary shows evidence that young people suffer significant stress if they are separated from their smartphones.
The study was small, only testing 87 volunteers, and asked subjects to take simple math tests in a mostly empty room. Some of those who participated kept their phones, others were asked to turn theirs off, another group locked up their phones and were given someone else’s phone instead, and the final group put their smartphone in a locked cabinet and couldn’t have access to it during the entire study. The findings were pretty much what any of us would expect.
Those who kept their phones (whether on or off) had no noticeable signs of stress about the test they were taking and the group that had someone elses phone showed a very low stress level as well. The other group (the people with their phones locked in a cabinet) showed significant heart rate fluctuations, an indicator of high stress and similar to symptoms shown by people suffering from PTSD, and tended to drift towards the cabinet their phones were locked in. The volunteers in this group were also very fidgety, scratching their faces and pacing. The researchers took these results as an indicator that there may be a very real link to smartphone separation and anxiety.
What Parents Should Know
This test was a very small sample study and will likely be followed up with some more extensive research. Small as it may be, though, I think we have all either seen or experienced firsthand the symptoms of smartphone separation anxiety. I, personally, make a conscious effort to spend extensive amounts of time without my phone, just to keep from getting so attached. I still find myself reaching for it when it isn’t there. It may seem obvious but I think these tests are a good idea because we should know more about how our habits affect us.
As parents it is important that we understand that addiction to technology is very real. While research is only now beginning to explain what’s happening when we get hooked on our electronics, the findings are disheartening. Our brains can actually be trained to ignore stimuli that isn’t on a screen and prefer the phone, tablet, or television over a book, a real sunset, or even someone’s face. We should be aware of how much time our children are spending using their technology and work hard to teach them healthy habits. We have to set the example first, and then set boundaries that will help them understand limits, why we have them, and what happens if we ignore them.
Use consequences that truly fit the crime for overuse of technology. If they feel a small example of that separation anxiety from being grounded from their phone for a week, you have an opportunity to help them see that their feelings of stress should be avoided and can be avoided with a more healthy attitude towards their digital lifestyle.