When the Internet was relatively new, experts warned against Internet addiction, and many individuals were treated by psychiatric facilities for “Internet addiction.” Recently, two Spanish boys made news when they were admitted to the Child and Youth Mental Health Centre in Lleida, Spain, suffering from cell phone addiction.
Experts at the Centre report that they are currently treating about 20 young people for mobile phone addiction, and that treatment will take about two years per patient.
This story should raise eyebrows, and questions. While many people do spend excessive amounts of time using their mobile phones, particularly for text messaging and games, does this really count as “addiction?” Many authorities believe that it is a psychological dependency, but it does not, because it cannot, include physical addiction.
That said, the fact is that people who develop a psychological dependency on mobile phones can suffer emotional and life consequences. In the case of the Spanish boys, the Centre reports that they were using their mobile phones for “six or seven hours a day.” While that is a lot of time in front of a mobile phone, it’s also about the amount of time Americans spend watching television.
The determining factor in a problem with mobile phone use is not the amount of time, and not even the amount of money spent on games or airtime, but actually the behavior itself and the patterns of behavior.
When diagnosing phone addiction or dependency, it’s important to consider whether phone use is actually interfering with normal functioning. In some cases, people spend a lot of time playing or communicating on their phones, but continue their normal lives. These people do not exhibit problem phone usage.
However, the newspaper El Mundo reported that the one of the boys admitted to the hospital in Lleida was deceiving his grandparents into giving him money which he spent on his phone habit. When a person begins lying or stealing to get money to pay for a habit, that habit is a problem.
The boys were also reportedly having problems in school; their grades had dropped since they received their phones. Again, this is a definite negative change in life functioning, and is a red flag for addiction and dependency.
These boys also were apparently using their phones without any oversight or restrictions from their parents. Any activity children participate in should be monitored by parents. At then and twelve, these boys were in charge of their own phone habits and chose for themselves what they would do on their phones and for how long. Most children this age do not yet make responsible choices in such situations.
There is a danger that parents will read about these boys and the other 18 children in the Centre at Lleida, or read about other children and adults suffering from “mobile phone addiction,” and take away cell phones or set unreasonable restrictions.
The most important thing parents can do to help their children avoid addiction to anything, including mobile phones, is to help their children learn to make important decisions and control their behavior. Taking away the mobile phone does not prevent addiction. It may prevent dependency on a mobile phone, but it does not help the young person learn how to control and moderate behavior.
Whether true mobile phone addiction exists or not is an open question, and medical experts will probably discuss it heatedly until the next major “addiction” comes along, at which point they’ll move on to another heated discussion.