Answers to Your Questions About Mobile Phone Addiction

by InnerHour on Fri, 23 Sep 2016

The ubiquitous use of mobile phones, whilst transforming the way we communicate and stay connected has also created numerous health challenges - both physical and psychological. No group is more affected by this usage than children and young adults - given that their minds are still undergoing development. Parents and specialists have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact of excessive mobile phone usage, and especially mobile phone addiction.

In this two-part series on mobile phone addiction and online gaming addiction, Dr. van Zwanenberg, a specialist in children's mental health answers some very critical questions raised by InnerHour's parent clients. Here she responds to questions on mobile phone addiction.

Q. What are some of the health risks associated with excessive usage of mobile phones? Which age groups is most at risk?

Most young people use these mobile phones positively to extend friendships, relax and find out information. However, if time is not limited on these mobile phones, young people can miss out on learning face-to-face social communication skills. This includes reading other people's body language and understanding how comments affect their emotions. 

Most studies show social media use does have a link to low self-esteem, insomnia, depression and stress. Peer rejection on the internet and a lack of close friends in real life are among the strongest predictors of depressions and negative self-views.

Additionally cyberbullying leads to a greater risk of depression or anxiety than traditional bullying and in one recent survey, 93% of teenagers said they have witnessed cyber bullying and 33% said they had personally experienced it. 

Perhaps the most common issue with the use of mobile phones is the impact on sleep. Teenagers need on average 9.5 hours of sleep but a fifth of children in secondary school deliberately wake up at night to log on and make sure they are not missing out on anything. 

Q. Can the use of mobile phones also affect the functioning of the brain?

In the past scientists believed that the brain was fully developed by the mid-teens. The consensus amongst neuroscientists now is that the brain is still developing until about the age of 25 and potentially until 30. All your behaviours and experiences have the potential to impact your developing brain well into your mid to late '30s. Stress in particular (which many young people experience from internet use) makes a significant mark on your brain and might impact on your white matter in such a way that it interferes with development of emotional regulation. 

Q. Is there any safe daily limit for children and adolescents. 

There is no clear guidance on this but I would recommend not letting mobile phone use occur at the exclusion of other healthy activities. It is up to parents to set their own limits but up to an hour after homework at night or a few extra hours at a weekend should not lead to an issue. I would suggest the parent's rules regarding time on mobile phones and other safety rules regarding the computer or mobile phones are placed clearly for the young people to see as reminders in a communal area of the house. Mobile phones should not be used in bedrooms or away from where parents cannot see what is going on. 

Q. My daughter's use of mobile phones is interfering with her academic performance. What can I do?

I would recommend sitting with her and talking through your concerns. Ask her to keep a diary of her use of mobile phones and if it is excessive in the week reduce this to a sensible amount and ensure she does not have the permitted time until homework is completed.

Q. How can I make effective use of mobile phones to help my children in their academics?

I would suggest becoming computer literate yourself. The more you know about these mobile phones and the Internet, the more you can make use of them positively and understand how to keep your children safe while using them. If you do not keep up, your child will easily be able to outwit you choosing whatever they wish to access without your knowledge. 

Q. Can the use of mobile phones have any benefits in the developments of children aged 8-12 years?

Mobile phones use in the moderation can be beneficial. If used sensibly and for limited periods there should be no ill effects on your child's social or psychological development and it may help academically. Unfortunately, children who would most likely benefit from internet access are those who are unlikely to be able to have it or afford it. 

Q. Could you offer some suggestions to monitor the use and dependence of mobile in adolescents?

Key principles are:

Keep lines of communication open; children whose parents talk to them a lot about the internet have:

    • Greater concern about their internet safety and sharing of personal information

    • A lower incidence of public online profiles

    • A lower incidence of meeting people from the online world

Create a list of Internet rules ideally with your child and have it on display

Set parental controls at the age-appropriate levels and use filtering and monitoring tools alongside your own supervision of their mobile phone use

Keep all computers in a public area of the home where you can walk past at any time and look at the screen

Talk to your children about their bodies being private and that no one should ask to see it

Encourage your kids to come to you if they encounter anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable and if they do react calmly and ensure they feel praised and reassured for coming to you

Teach them not to interact with people they don’t know and that people can disguise themselves online as very different people from who they are

Teach your children do be kind to others and that it is okay to stand out and not follow the crowd

Dr. van Zwanenberg is a consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist based in the UK. She is the Medical Director of the Woodbourne Priory Hospital in Birmingham and provides Medical Directorship to the Nottingham Priory Hospital. She is presenting on the impact of mobile phone usage and associated adverse effects on children and young people to the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Westminster Commission.

You can find out more about Dr. van Zwanenberg at

If you or someone close to you is unable to regulate mobile phone usage, you can always reach out to us by contacting an InnerHour therapist for help.


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