Does Smartphone Addiction Boost Anxiety and Depression?

We frequently hear about the dangers of “smartphone addiction.” If you search those words in Google, you’ll find this juicy quotation in the second link:

The brain on “smartphone” is the same as the brain on cocaine: we get an instant high every time our screen lights up with a new notification.

“An instant high.” Like cocaine? Hmmmm.

You might even have heard that we’ve got research about the perils of such addictions. But: can we rely on it?

A recent study asked a simple question, and got an alarming answer.

How Do We Know What We Know About Phone Usage?

Studies about smartphones typically ask participants to rate their cell phone usage — number of minutes, number of texts, and so forth. They then correlate those data with some other harmful condition: perhaps depression.

Researchers in Britain wanted to know: how accurately do people rate their cellphone usage?

When they looked at Apple’s “Screen Time” application, they found that participants simply don’t do a good job of reporting their own usage.

In other words: depression might correlate with people’s reported screen time. But it doesn’t necessarily correlate with (and certainly doesn’t result from) their actual screen time.

In the modest language of research:

We conclude that existing self-report instruments are unlikely to be sensitive enough to accurately predict basic technology use related behaviors. As a result, conclusions regarding the psychological impact of technology are unreliable when relying solely on these measures to quantify typical usage.

So much for that “instant high.” Like cocaine.

What Should Teachers Do

As I’ve written before, I think research into technology use is often too muddled and contradictory to give us good guidance right now.

Here’s what I wrote back in May:

For the time being, to preserve sanity, I’d keep these main points in mind:

First: don’t panic. The media LOVE to hype stories about this and that terrible result of technology. Most research I see doesn’t bear that out.

Second: don’t focus on averages. Focuses on the child, or the children, in front of you.

Is your teen not getting enough sleep? Try fixing that problem by limiting screen time. If she is getting enough sleep, no need to worry!

Is your student body managing their iPhones well? If yes, it’s all good! If no, then you can develop a policy to make things better.

Until we get clearer and more consistent research findings, I think we should respond — calmly — to the children right in front of us.

I still think that advice holds. If your child’s attachment to the cellphone seems unhealthy, then do something about it.

But if not, we shouldn’t let scary headlines drive us to extremes.

tags: / category: L&B Blog

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