LEEDS, United Kingdom — Phone addiction could shorten kids’ lives, a child expert and psychotherapist claims. Dr. Charlotte Armitage says that along with social media and excessive gaming severely affecting mental health, the anxiety related to phone usage could have a huge impact on a youngster’s cardiovascular system.
Dr. Armitage has banned her daughter, who is nine years-old, from using social media altogether. The psychotherapist also limits her phone time, saving it strictly for emergencies.
“The impact of phone addiction on all important areas of psychological functioning may contribute to the development of behaviors which shorten the lifespan,” the 39-year-old says in an online video.
“I see my daughter’s friends coming round to watch a film, and they’ll just sit on their phones the whole time. They’ll be posting things they shouldn’t on platforms they’re not meant to be on. That’s how people are – they become zombies, sucked into a device.”
Charlotte, from Leeds in the United Kingdom, believes growing up surrounded by devices could easily have a detrimental impact on kids’ health and may even end up shortening their lifespans in the long run.
“If you grow up with a device in your face, you’ll struggle to develop interpersonal relationships and skills,” she continues. “Deep and meaningful relationships are vital for our mental health and life longevity. Social media should be an absolute no, to all children, full stop. All it’s doing is wiring up the addiction mechanisms in the brain.”
The mechanics of addiction stem from the feel-good hormones in the brain. When it comes to using phones and social media, receiving likes on platforms like TikTok can trigger these hormones.
“Any kind of addiction is a behavior triggering a release of neurotransmitters in the brain. The brain recognizes the action as a reward, and it encourages us to do it again,” Dr. Armitage says.
“But the more we administer something – in this case, phone usage – the less of an impact it has. Our cells start to deaden off, so we need a more intense hit to get the dopamine going again. And we define an addiction when it starts to affect other areas of your life – your friendships, relationships, work, health, sleep. If your friends – or your parents – are constantly telling you to ‘put your phone down, please’ – it means your usage is intruding on real life.”
The psychotherapist believes the feel-good nature of phone addiction can come from the limitlessness of social media, but it’s also responsible for a number of other issues.
“You shouldn’t be giving your children free reign on their devices,” Armitage urges. “Everybody in the entire world has the ability to influence your child. We’re led into a false sense of security because we think they’re just sat safe at home.”
“Stranger danger is still applicable now. You wouldn’t leave your child alone in the middle of a shopping center, filled with malevolent individuals. But this is reality. We see young children being groomed on their devices – things like young boys being manipulated into the world of incels. Children don’t have the skills to negotiate legitimacy vs. illegitimacy online. They can’t understand all of that.”
As well as affecting a child’s mental health, Charlotte says there is also evidence to suggest their physical health could be suffering as a result of phone addiction.
“There’s proof that people who look at phones just before bed still have high levels of cortisol in their blood after waking up in the morning,” the doctor and mother notes. “This means you’re anxious even before you wake up. Cortisol is responsible for the breathlessness, heart palpitations and panic you feel when you’re stressed or anxious. It can even have a negative impact on the cardiovascular system.”
Dr. Armitage believes the only answer is for parents and caregivers to set boundaries in place when it comes to their kids using digital devices.
“It’s our job to teach our kids that our communities are our schools, families and friends. Not the whole world on a small device. Children learn by imitation – and if you have your head stuck in a device all day, your children will too,” Armitage concludes.
“It’s on adults to stop the cycle. It’s not about shaming anybody or saying people are doing things wrong. Most people are just trying to do the best they can. It’s more that we just do not realize what these devices are doing to us.”
Digital devices could also stunt emotional development
Using smartphones and other digital devices to pacify young children can backfire and end up stifling their emotional development, another recent study warns.
Researchers at Michigan Medicine found that digital technology may help calm down toddlers in the short term, but it could also reduce their chances to practice emotional coping skills. Scientists added that handing a moody pre-school age child a screen may seem to offer a quick fix, yet it could also lead to more severe challenging behavior further down the line.
The findings of the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, show that frequent use of smartphones and tablets to calm upset children between three and five years-old led to increased emotional dysregulation in kids, particularly in boys.
Dr. Charlotte’s Top Tips For Setting Boundaries With Devices:
- Social media should be off the table completely if you have young children.
- Devices themselves can be quite educational – let your children use it for school or games like Roblox and Minecraft – but only for half an hour at a time.
- Make sure you’re having regular time together as a family – even something as small as folding laundry together.
- Encourage your kids to immerse themselves in their environment as much as possible, not everything needs to be filmed and CERTAINLY not everything needs to be posted.
- Adults – make sure you’re deactivating your email accounts and work apps every evening and weekend. Getting rid of notifications and deactivating your social media accounts work, too. Putting your phone onto airplane mode during the night is effective for not waking up to notifications.
South West News Service writer Hannah Van De Peer contributed to this report.