Pathways for positivity: Smartphone addiction

Addiction. What springs to mind? Drug misuse, alcohol dependency, smoking, gambling perhaps? Did you think of ‘Nomophonia’ –addiction to smartphones?

When the first iPhone was launched in 2007 the fascination for mobile technology quickly became an acceptable part of daily life. An estimated 88% of UK adults owned at least one smartphone in 2021, as figures continue to rise.

Because of its many functions the smartphone has mutated to be far more powerful than the humble telephone Alexander Graham Bell invented in 1876, what was cutting edge almost 150 years ago bears little resemblance to the high-tech powerful machines, many of us can’t stand to leave the house without now. The vast functionality of a mobile phone would surely have made Bells head ring!

Because we’re dependent on our telephones, everything from online travel tickets, to paying for shopping, communicating with family, friends, online social media sites, gaming and so much more. Our phones are rarely far from our hands, or our minds. In fact, one survey found that the average person accesses their smartphone screen 150 times per day!

A couple of years ago I was invited to speak at a school year group assembly about Digital Awareness and mental health. I asked the students who were 14/15 years of age, how many hours a day they spent online (this included gaming and mobile phones) when they weren’t at school and I was astounded to find that that over a third of them said they spent more than 12 hours a day on them, one student said he went online until he literally fell asleep.

I asked if they thought it was a problem and the answer was a resounding NO!

My next question was if the students preferred to meet each other in ‘real life’ or ‘online’ and out of a full year group, only a handful of students said they preferred to meet up in person. When I asked why, they said, ‘it was weird to meet in person’ and that it’s easier to chat online.

Honestly, that saddened me, my youth was spent with friends, doing fun things together often outside in the fresh air!
It’s undeniable, smartphones have changed how we function as a society. Even as adults most of us communicate differently than we did 10 or 15 years ago. I can’t remember the last time I had a spontaneous chat on the phone with a friend. Calling someone without permission is seen as intrusive and turning up unannounced at the front door is a definite no-no. Yet 66% of people in the UK use Facebook regularly and quite happily allow virtual strangers into their lives and homes by posting photographs of holidays, birthdays, deaths, and other life events.

Can you identify with any of this?

  • You’re moody and restless without your smartphone.
  • You panic at the idea of leaving the house without it.
  • You constantly check to see if you’ve missed a notification.
  • You unlock your phone and look at the screen, just because…
  • You go on your phone as soon as you wake up.
  • You go on your phone before bed, often falling asleep with it in your hand.
  • You go on your phone in the middle of the night.
  • You eat your meals while looking at your phone, texting, watching videos etc.
  • You ignore the person you are with to go on your mobile phone.
  • When someone is speaking to you, you find it difficult to focus on them and want to go on your phone.
  • You take your phone into the bathroom with you.
  • You spend any free time on your phone.
  • You spend less time doing hobbies, because you don’t have time, yet you always find time to go on your phone.
  • People comment that you’re always on your phone.
  • It takes you longer to complete tasks because you keep getting distracted by your phone.

To break the dependency of your phone try using some of these suggestions:

  • Turn off notifications.
  • Reduce the screen brightness.
  • Commit to spending 30 minutes less each day on your phone. Then an hour, etc…
  • Don’t interact with your phone until you are out of bed, washed, dressed and ready to start the day.
  • Go for a walk, turn all notifications off. And make a deal that you won’t get it out of your pocket until you get home.
  • Give yourself a cut off time, no phone after 8pm – this will help you sleep better too.
  • Charge your phone in another room overnight.
  • Buy a traditional alarm clock, so you don’t have to touch your phone in the night.

In the right circumstances smartphones are wonderful tools, they open the world to all sorts of possibilities and wonder. They allowed us to see our loved ones in real time during the pandemic and the ease of being able to speak to loved ones who are miles away from us is truly a gift. We can join groups and clubs with like minded people. We can read books, educate ourselves, learn new skills, develop meaningful friendships, even build lifelong relationships.
But when the balance tips and you’re no longer using the phone to enhance your life, but to distract you from it, then it’s time to stop, assess what’s really going on and find ways to manage it. Using the phone and all the online tools to distract you can only work for so long. Eventually whatever the real issue is, it will still be there waiting for you.

Don’t drift from the people, places and things that are here and now, reconnect with your senses to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch life on this side of the screen. Because when you put your phone down, they’ll all be here for you.


Shannon Humphrey is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor, helping schools and businesses create healthy conversations around wellbeing and mental health.


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