By: REGAN HENNING
Teens are constantly thinking. Whether it’s about homework, school, or jobs, stressed thoughts ravage their minds. They need a break every once in awhile, a restoration of youth. When these breaks don’t come as often as they would like, they start to become hostile towards the main thing that occupies their day. At the same time, they build a strong love for the things they do during their leisure. This may become unhealthy, an obsession.
Every time a phone gets a notification, whether it’s from a text or a notice on social media, and someone checks it, dopamine is released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives a feeling of happiness and it encourages people to keep checking their phones. For example, researchers at a California State University did an experiment where reporter Anderson Cooper’s phone, that was getting constant texts, would be just out of reach from him. The results showed his breathing changing, perspiration increasing, and heart rate spiking. These are all symptoms of anxiety. Teenagers have become obsessed because of that dopamine but the more they’re on their device, the more separation anxiety becomes noticeable.
Most of the time, the main distraction for teenagers are their phones. These little devices consume their free time and have started to take over when they’re supposed to be paying attention in many situations, such as school. A student survey from Top Hat shows that 54 percent of students text and use their phones for non-academic purposes during class. However, students don’t see this as a problem, for they’re addicted to texting and checking their phone.
The average time spent on a phone per day in regards to students is around 6.5 hours, adding up to approximately 45.5 hours a week. Between any possible sports, clubs or jobs, this is a lot of time spent looking at a phone. When asked, 10 out of 10 students said the app they most use is a form of social media. Instead of finding their escape in other people’s digital lives, a better option would be to read, cook, or help out around the house. These are more relaxing and don’t cause anxiety to manifest in the long run. So what’s so compelling about social media that gets teenagers so obsessed?
Social media is where most teenagers keep in contact with others. They revert to texting or commenting on a picture instead of hanging out face to face. It’s less time consuming but causes engagement levels to go down. Another role social media plays that attracts the youth is its outlet for news. Social media is all about staying updated on current events, and often time this is the data teens will consume. With this being the main source of income for information, ideas such as the newest trends are promoted more than ones that hold more importance. Often times, teenagers feel if they aren’t constantly checking in with everyone, they’re left out, inciting fear because most teenagers would want to fit in. People have even started to make careers out of it, some even dropping out of school to pursue it. With most parts of society being phone centered, not owning one may cause the feeling of being an outcast.
It’s created a pressure on teenagers because they’re the ones who feel that need to fit in. MRI studies show that in a teenagers brain, the area for planning, decision making, personality expression and moderating social behavior is getting lost because of synaptic pruning. At the same time, another process called myelination takes place. This is what causes social tendencies to change as teenagers get older. These changes in the brain may cause feelings of self consciousness and vulnerability. In this stage teens become more susceptible to things like peer pressure or wanting to be like someone else they admire or are jealous of. This is what causes the feel that they need to fit in. Their brains are changing and so is the way they think and with phones being so huge in the world, it could easily be the root of this whole problem. When teenagers see certain things on their phones or social media, like pictures of models, it may make them feel bad about their personal image and make them want to change it. Since they are in such a vulnerable state and want people to like them, the idea of looking like someone they saw on a social media platform could rapidly turn into an obsession for them. Abusing phone limits can develop into many bad habits, one being body image issues.
With teens always on their phone in attempts to stay in the loop, they’ve started an obsession that they might not even be aware of. It’s something they don’t view as bad because it’s a fun distraction from the work they have to do in a regular day, so teenagers probably aren’t in any hurry to get off their phone, but it would be in their best interest to set it down sometimes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US did a series of teen related surveys and found that from 2010-2015, just a five year difference, suicidal thoughts had gone up 12 percent. They also found that around half of teens who spend more than five hours a day on a device had thought about or planned suicide at least once.
Despite its prevalence, there are ways to make it better and control this obsession. According to Thrillist, there are a couple remedies to help. This includes leaving their phone at home sometimes, never use it as an alarm clock, don’t take it in the bathroom, and keep it put away during meals. These tips can help create a distance between teens and their phones. Some of them really need some distance because being that into their phone can cause more harm than anything because students are choosing to live in a digital world instead of the actual one. Phones can be used as an outlet for creativity, long distance communication, and expression. However, when people abuse these positives, they become negative attributes. When creativity and expression is taken too far, constant worry if it’ll be good enough starts.
Instead of letting thoughts of work and responsibility fill teenagers minds, they’re letting their minds be occupied by social media, the lives of other teenagers, and wondering if they’re good enough. According to teenagers at Truman, they love being on their phone and having those connections to people. However, it’s hurting them more than they realize. They’re a great distraction but the obsession that comes with it can be awful.