Cell Phones. An All-Ages Addiction.

Shereeza Ibrahim. B.A.Psych, M.S.W, R.S.W.
Clinical Counsellor and Author

An unexpected addictive behaviour is creeping up on all of us. It has captured children, teens, adults
and even seniors. Cell phones are addictive. I know we don’t want to see it that way because cell
phones seem so harmless. But before we write it off as a mere silly habit, let’s explore if there is any
justification to calling it “addictive”.

According to researchers at the Illinois State University and the University of Michigan, parents use
screen-time (television, computers, tablets and smartphones) for nine hours per day on average. Adults
find lots of useful purposes for their cell phones, such as checking investments, following up on work-
related duties, communicating with family members, checking the news, looking for instructions on
home renovations and gardening etc. We even use it to alleviate boredom, anxiety and depression. All
valid reasons, correct? Time passes quickly when you’re wrapped up in browsing information online.
We spend more time on it than we think.

The funny thing is, as adults we judge children and teens for using too much “screen-time”. From our
view, it’s useless. To them, it’s the best part of their day, which some of us can relate to. The new
reality is that screens are becoming the common medium of communication. Students of all ages are
using screens to learn and take notes.

However, excessive and improper use can have its drawbacks. In a 2020 study published in the
Canadian Medical Association Journal, Elia Abi-Jaoude et al. discovered heavy smartphone use and
media multi-tasking resulted in “chronic sleep deprivation, and negative effects on cognitive control,
academic performance and socioemotional functioning”. Children are spending a lot of time on social
media such as TikTok, Youtube and Instagram. The study notes that social media “can affect
adolescents’ self-view and interpersonal relationships through social comparison and negative
interactions, including cyberbullying; moreover, social media content often involves normalization and
even promotion of self-harm and suicidality among youth.”

But what role do we play as adults in teaching them how to use phones. Are we setting limits for
ourselves? Are you noticing that you feel fidgety and want to satisfy the urge to check your messages or
search something when your phone is not with you? Are you aware of how often you pick up your
phone while watching tv or during dinner or conversations? What message are we sending our family
about their value and importance when we pick up the phone while our children are speaking to us,
even if we are busy with work or “something important”? It takes our gaze away from others and
prevents the interpersonal connection which is so essential to quality human relationships.
Our relationship with cell phones, on the other hand, is negatively influencing our mental health,
relationships, sleep and overall health. It is worthwhile for all of us, at all ages, to be honest about our
use of cell phones and how it’s affecting our brain and our relationships.

Some strategies to reduce cell phone usage include establishing a rule that there will be no cell phone
use during certain times of the evening, including during dinner and after a specified hour (you choose
when). Instead, use these times to connect with each other, learn about each other’s successes and
challenges and share laughs.

Additionally, there are apps you can download to monitor how much you or your children use their
phones. Use this as an opportunity to the extent of your personal use, and think about making changes
if needed. Outside of cases of emergency, try to keep your cell on silent or vibrate and leave it face-
down to avoid the lure of the notification chimes and flashing lights that nag you to check your
messages. Lastly, try to assign yourself times during the day that can be dedicated to browsing your
phone and messages, rather than making cell phone use integrated throughout your waking hours.

Author Bio: Shereeza is a clinical counsellor and award-winning author, whom offers low- cost telephone counselling through GTA Wellness Consultation. She has been with the Islamic Institute of Toronto community for over 10 years and is now a regular contributor to the IIT Newsletter.