Carroll County Times

Batavick: Nomophobes can't be without smartphones

They even have a name for it: “nomophobia.” It is the fear of not having your cellphone.

According to a study published in “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking,” nomophobes consider themselves at one with their smartphones. The instruments serve as direct connections to loved ones and friends, are adjuncts to their own brains for storing and accessing information, and are conduits for instantly sharing experiences and memories, especially via photos and videos.


However, any serious dependency poses risks, and cellphones present an especially challenging situation for schools. The French government is banning students from using mobile phones in all primary, junior and middle schools, effective this school year. Kids will be permitted to bring their phones to school but won’t be granted access until the dismissal bell sounds.

French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer explained, “Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons … for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled.” He sees the ban as a “public health message to families” and believes, “it’s good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of 7.”


Admittedly, that’s pretty radical, but it does play into one of my pet peeves — seeing toddlers in strollers or high chairs glued to electronic devices while the world and family conversation and dynamics pass them by.

No less an authority than Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill and one of his former tech employees, had this to contribute to the debate: “Still, as a mother who wants to make sure her children are safe and happy, I worry. And I think back to how I might have done things differently. ... I probably would have waited longer before putting a computer in my children’s pockets.”

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The most recent Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has been asking 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and started quizzing eighth- and 10th-graders in 1991. One of the latest findings is that eighth-graders who spend 10 plus hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than their peers who spend considerably less time online.

What’s the danger? Heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent and, if your child or grandchild spends three or more hours a day tapping or scrolling on a smartphone, they raise the risk factor for suicide by 35 percent. This should cause everyone to sit up and take notice.

I think it more than interesting that when compared to kids 15 years ago, today’s teens spend much less time talking to each other (excluding texting), working part-time jobs, doing homework, going out in groups and even dating. According to psychologist Jean M. Twenge, “only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for [baby] boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.”

Twenge also notes: “Nearly all [baby] boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school.” If there’s a salutary side to this more monastic lifestyle it’s that the “teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.”

I write this while vacationing at the Jersey Shore with our kids and five of our grandkids. (I am not unaware of the irony of my being on a laptop while they use their smartphones.) The three teens, when left to their own devices, are on them, even at the beach.

It is a necessary chore to frequently tell them to put those things away and enjoy the sun, sand and waves, and when back at the house, to help with meals; play a card or board game; watch a family movie; or ask, “Didn’t you bring a book to read?” One of the things I find really odd is that two of them will sit in the family room and send SnapChats or Instagrams to each other while exchanging giggles. Ah yes, another advance in the fine art of conversation.


Tired of nagging? There are apps that can help with smartphone addiction. A free one called Moment tracks how long you spend staring at that little screen, sets limits and lets you know when your time is up. Google “apps to control phone use” to learn more.