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Do we need SMARTPHONE AND TABLET Anonymous?

Think Local

In April this year, the inaugural 7til17 Challenge took place. The task was for participants to actively disconnect from the internet from 7pm to 7am every day for a week. This was not only to raise money for Headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) but also to do the actual participant a favour - to 'reconnect with yourself, your community and the world around you', as the initiative states as the aim.

While some may think that switching off a smartphone or tablet for this period of time would be extremely easy, with new statistics revealing that an average smartphone user interacts with their device more than 150 times in the space of 24 hours, for some, this challenge may be quite hard.

Co-founder of the 7til17 Challenge, Harli Ames, tells North Shore Living switching off was initially more difficult than he expected.

 "When my alarm goes off at 5.30am, the first thing I usually do is pick up my phone and check my emails. During the 7ti17 Challenge, I had to put boundaries up, which meant I literally had to put my phone in another room until 7am," he explains.

However, the benefits were far greater than he imagined.

"I found I had so much more time. Because I couldn't check my smartphone or tablet when I woke up, I started going to the gym in the morning. In the evening, when my wife usually answers all of her emails or reads on the couch on her iPad, we made dinner together. We sat and we talked and we ate and we reconnected.

"My aim now is to continue this new way of life - to disconnect from the internet on a regular basis. I've now banned myself from the internet in bed so I can unwind and have quality thinking time."

While overusing technology may be frowned upon, and yes, we do need to take time to interact face to face, limiting smartphone or tablet usage may be an extremely hard task for a lot of people. Marianne Gabriel, a North Shore-based registered psychologist, says, "The compulsive nature of checking messages and social media, as well as the fear of missing out on something has become an essential part of many people's lives. The instant reward obtained with videos, texts, tweets and news stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain. Therefore, restricting access to handheld devices can trigger anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms."

Cate Sinclair from Lifeline says there are "really big issues" concerning the overuse of smartphones and tablets, especially to the dramatic increase in the number of “screenagers”, with 15 to 19 year olds spending at least three hours a day on average on social media.

"Many studies have shown the effects of what happens when teenagers have their devices taken away for an extended period of time. They become agitated and anxious," she explains.

Ms Sinclair suggests households build a structure around screens. "As a family, everyone needs to collectively put away their devices at designated times and sit and chat. Families need to work out a strategy that works for them," she advises.

Lifeline is currently developing a counselling program to teach both individuals and groups how to regulate their use of mobile phones and tablets.

"Lifeline will also be going to schools to teach young students about how they can engage with their screens in a positive way. It's about early intervention," says Ms Sinclair.

Ms Gabriel says there are many ways of placing boundaries around social media usage.

"When behaviour becomes obsessive and compulsive, it takes on the qualities of an addiction, for example feeling anxious when the phone is not close by, and constantly checking for alerts and notifications. This is not easily modified without help from others, and often professional help is needed.

"As adolescents lack the ability to contain their behaviour, I recommend parents secure all devices at least an hour before bedtime.

"Also, parents need to also adhere to the boundaries set. If we want our children to change an undesirable behavior, then we need to be willing to do the same.”

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