If you ever look over at a group of teens, they will never be looking at you. They will be staring at their phones. Look around you right now, and it's likely that most people you see are fixated on little rectangular screens. We can lament the loss of face-to-face communication and eye contact between our teenagers, but the fact is that adults aren't much better at ignoring their phones.
Now, maybe all that screen time isn't completely horrible.
Many people argue spending 25 minutes a day messaging people (the average) on our phones can help us accomplish a lot. Parents arrange kids' schedules, keep in touch with children, and organize volunteer work. Teens send silly pictures, talk about the opposite sex, and let everyone know about the big Friday night party.
So is the down side of so much messaging really all that bad?
Nomophobia is when someone has a fear of being away from their phone; a phobia of having "no mobile." And 50 percent of teenagers admit to having it. They feel addicted to their phones and are sending around 200 texts every day.
That's a problem.
First is the physiological effect. Text neck is a real thing that can cause a series of health issues. Constantly hunching over to stare at our gadgets creates a nightmare for posture. Plus, neck and shoulder pain are often the result of putting so much strain on our spines.
Another health hazard that comes from too much screen time is lack of sleep. We know that the blue light from our phones, computers and tablets messes with our circadian rhythm, and that means disruptive sleep patterns. Some people who are addicted to their phones admit to having a hard time sleeping through the night because of FOMO (fear of missing out). People are actually waking up in the middle of the night — out of habit — to check their phones.
Phone addiction can also take its toll on teens' learning. Students who text while doing homework soak up less information. College kids who text during class end up with notes that aren't as thorough as those from students who focus all their attention on the professor.
So how can parents know if their kids' texting habits are normal or have gone beyond what is considered healthy behavior?
Kelly Lister-Landman is an assistant professor of psychology at Delaware County Community College. She says texting has gone too far if teens lie about whether or not they are texting, if they get combative when someone questions their texting behavior, and if a teenager has tried to cut back, but can't.
And Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, says it can be a problem when anyone spends so much time on gadgets that it replaces other things that are important in our lives, like "exercise, socializing or work."
If you recognize any of this in your teenager (or yourself), there are some things you can do.
Set times or even days that are tech-free. Maybe no phones are allowed during homework, or nothing with a screen for an hour before bedtime.
Set tech-free zones in your home like the dinner table, or bedrooms.
Be active with them. Often teens turn to screens because they are bored. Create something more rewarding or more entertaining for them to do and maybe even do it with them.
Set an example. It's tough to motivate our kids to put their phones down when our nose is in a screen all the time. Model responsible digital behavior for them to follow.
Parents should first observe kids' gadget behavior to identify problem areas. Then, if needed, institute some rules to keep screen time in check. And finally, moms and dads may need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and make some corrections within their own digital lives. Texting isn't inherently evil, but it can become that way if we ignore the warning signs of addiction and are too lazy to improve our habits.