There's a good chance someone you love has an addiction problem. And it's not what you think.
Not even final clearance, gift with purchase, or my personal favorite, sale shopping.
It's the Internet and all the shiny, dopamine inducing distraction that comes with it.
And no one is safe.
Over this last summer, a good friend of mine's 9-year-old son spent a full 24 hours gaming online continually. He wet his pants, he wouldn't eat. He couldn't be pulled away. To say he was obsessed is an understatement. She's a good Mom, but she, like so many of us, is pulled in too many directions. She's single, raising him alone and trying to build her small business that supports them, working pretty much seven days a week. So what started as a simple distraction to keep her son occupied while he was with her at her studio, became a full, raging, seemingly unstoppable addiction.
Over this last summer, a good friend of mine's 9-year-old son spent a full 24 hours gaming online continually.
Talk about a wake-up call. But this story isn't mom-shaming. The great news is that today, his online and off-line life is much different than it was a few months ago, and he is a much happier little guy.
HOW SERIOUS CAN THIS BE? EVERYONE CHECKS THEIR PHONE 150 TIMES A DAY, RIGHT?
Of course, you might be thinking, "That is extreme! Nothing like that is happening around me—I would be able to see it." But in a recent study, 45% of teens surveyed said they were online "constantly." That means pretty much all the time. And we all know that it's so easy to think like my friend did, that since almost all kids have digital devices, that this is normal and acceptable behavior. Another study found that 41% of teens were suffering from "short sleep," seven hours or less per night. They were waking up late and not feeling rested. The researchers found that nighttime screen use—in the dark, most notably, was the biggest culprit.
But here's something to think about: Games, social media platforms, and video streaming services are all specifically designed to keep you there longer. To addict you. They show you just the right video, allow you to move to the next exciting level, to see how many likes you've picked up on that selfie in the last ten minutes. Really, their whole business depends on being able to turn you into someone who comes back more and more frequently and stays on the app for longer and longer periods. It's called "time on site," and it's one of the most critical metrics of digital success. More is better for them, but that doesn't mean it's better for us.In fact, teens who are online constantly tend to grow up into depressed young adults.
IT'S EASY FOR NORMAL TO TURN INTO NOMO-PHOBIA
Our culture has become so accustomed to being attached to our devices at all times that there's even a term for the irrational fear of being without your phone: "nomo-phobia". Even if you wouldn't define yourself as addicted, what you may think of as normal technology use might actually be having a more significant effect on you than you realize. Scrolling, texting, and Candy Crushing throughout your day can negatively impact your sleep, increase your anxiety, expose you to high levels of EMF (check out our EMF Radiation Guide for the full scoop), and distract you from other important tasks at hand. Did you know your dependence on your phone actually decreases your ability to focus and perform well on tasks as long as it's in the same room as you - even if it's turned over or in your purse. Recently I did a podcast with a professor who studies the impact of social media, gaming, and scrolling on smartphones on teens. He found that as the amount of time spent online (not including school use) increases, the level of happiness decreases. There's a direct relationship between less time online and how happy you are. That's something to take note of. All that being said, many of us are under the influence of our smartphones, even if we aren't experiencing extreme addiction.
GET BACK TO BALANCE WITH A DIGITAL DETOX (NO REHAB REQUIRED)
When it comes to Internet addiction and device dependency, we are at the front end of the curve, and we can control the outcome, just like my friend did with her son. Regardless of if you are deep in addiction or just find yourself scrolling through Instagram late into the night, the answer to returning to balance lies with a digital detox.
He found that as the amount of time spent online (not including school use) increases, the level of happiness decreases.
My friend enforced a strict 30-day detox for her son. He definitely had withdrawals for the first couple of weeks, but by the end of 30 days, her son had turned back into the lovely boy he was before he discovered gaming. I recently interviewed him for an upcoming story, and he had done a full 180: playing outside more, connecting through conversation, having fun, and wishing more of his friends would sign-off and get outside with him.
If you find yourself or your loved ones on the other end of the spectrum, I recommend trying an hour a day or one day a week digital detox. Dine device free, take a walk on the beach totally unplugged, give someone your full attention in conversation, or try creating something new with your hands. You'll be surprised by how your anxiety levels decrease, your joy increases, and your relationship with technology becomes healthier and healthier.
AS USUAL, WOMEN ARE GOING TO HAVE TO SOLVE THIS.
Honestly, as women, we tend to be concerned with not only our own ability to thrive, but everyone else we love as well. So if the word is going to get out, if there must be a voice of reason, if we're going to change the narrative around our use of digital devices, women are the people to do that.
That's why I created Tech Wellness specifically to talk to women. Women get it. In fact, it was a very wise woman, Dr Kimberly Young and our first Tech Wellness Digital Addiction expert, who first coined the term Internet Addiction in the 1990's—presenting the concept to the American Psychological Association as a possible diagnosis. She even developed this test to determine if you should be backing off of that Instagram time.
I'm not asking you to become a sign-carrying vigilante about internet use—we all know that's not attractive or effective. I'm saying, be aware and alert to friends and family who may need to take that little test and reclaim their balance. And while you're at it, perhaps test out your own digital detox and see how you thrive—mind, body, and spirit.
Be Well! August
This article was originally published December 26, 2019.
WRITTEN BYAugust Brice