Although different means of communication have been around for quite a long, this particular phobia did not emerge until the advent of smartphones. Nomophobia is a fear of being without your phone, losing the signal or running out of battery – in other words, the fear of losing connectedness, being unable to communicate and be reached by other people. It consists of a Greek root “phobia” meaning “fear” and an acronym “nomo” for “no mobile phone”.
Although the proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-Vhas been rejected, the fact remains that anxiety caused by not having a smartphone is real. Some critics say that the word “phobia” is misused here and it only suits as a casual reference, just as “addiction” to our favorite TV series. However, for teenagers, the anxiety caused by losing connectivity can be worsened by their susceptibility, their natural peer-oriented mindset and, most of all, the fact that they were born into the digital world – they do not remember the world before smartphones, so their mobile gadgets are essential to them.
Why Teens Are Affected?
This phenomenon did not pertain specifically to the teenage population when it was first studied in 2010, and the term “nomophobia” was coined. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of teens admit they cannot stand being without their phones. In fact, fifty percent of them think they are addicted to their mobile devices, according to the recent survey by Common Sense Media. This number has doubled within 5 years’ time (compared to 26% of smartphone-addicted teens in 2011). Maybe there is more to nomophobia than meets the eye?
According to the study conducted back in 2005 by Adriana Bianchi and Dr. James G. Philips overuse of mobile phone is caused by underlying psychological factors, such as low self-esteem or highly extroverted personality. Nomophobia may also be a sign of preexisting mental disorders such as social anxiety, panic disorder, and the whole variety of other psychological issues.
If you have noticed that your child compulsively checks his or her phone, becomes anxious when unable to get access to the Internet, frustrated or overly excited by incoming messages, shows withdrawal symptoms (restlessness, moodiness, sleep deprivation, etc.) when separated from their device, it is obvious that he or she has some troubles. You most definitely must reach out for them to offer help. Nomophobia is what’s on the surface, but there is always a deeper reason.
Even if your kid’s problem is as innocent as being particularly partial to an online game or chatting with friends, it may lead to sleep issues due to the emission of blue light from the smartphone screen that keeps them wide-awake late at night. Furthermore, you must make sure that the “friends” they are chatting to aren’t predators in disguise, trolls or bullies.
Cyberbullying is widely recognized, but still,it is a growing issue. Teenagers confess to saying mean things online, which they would not dream of saying to someone’s face in real life. However, hate posts are as scarring as the old-fashioned taunting in the playground – they distort child’s self-image, humiliate, stigmatize, make them feel isolated and rejected.
On the other hand, on social media young people often seek consolation when struggling through a hard time, problems at home, bullying at school. They say that likes under their photos are reassuring and make them feel better about themselves, twitting something or updating a status on Facebook is the same as shouting something out loud, when you’ve had enough – it helps you to vent out, while comments and shares provide some kind of validation. The hashtags give them an opportunity to find peers based on the shared interests, but also, what is rather disturbing, based on the shared sufferings and disorders – self-harm, anorexia, suicidal thoughts. Instagram bans such hashtags, but teens unceasingly come up with new ones to be able to find other people that are going through the same hell as they are.
It is true that having someone they can openly talk to about their problems often helps teens in overcoming their psychological issues. Merely knowing that they are not alone, that there is someone out there, who understands them, is a consolation. However, such contacts can also be very triggering. Moreover, the feeling of community and connectedness with like-minded people can be an obstacle for overcoming the initial problem – if you get better, you no longer have a problem others relate to in the first place, you are out of the club, so to speak. So in order to keep these friendships going,your teen may carry on suffering, instead of bouncing back.
What Can You Do to Prevent Nomophobia?
How to prevent this kind of risky and destructive behaviors? If you noticed that your child is developing nomophobic symptoms, do not punish them by taking away their phone – it can even make things worth. Try to understand why the phone became the center of their life and what the initial problem is. Also, keep ongoing conversations about online dangers – awareness is the best protection.
Today we are all prone to the dependence on technology. As it happens, not only parents think that teenagers spend too much time on their smartphones – teenagers say that their parents are too absorbed by the mobile screens themselves. On the bright side, this inseparability makes your child always reachable. You can call them at any time or write a message just to make sure they are okay. It is also possible to figure out where exactly your child is, by using an iPhone location tracker and other similar GPS-based technologies.
However, since the digital plays a growingly important role in the life of young people, it would be even better to join the social networks your teen prefers and be a part of your teen’s digital life as well. After all, mastering another tricky app or emoji language is worth your peace of mind and being able to help your child.