Nomophobia & Teen Mental Health: The Latest in Smartphone Addiction

Ted Guastello, Vice President of Operations at Newport Academy, recently spoke on Turner Broadcasting System’s HLN network about a very 21st-century problem: nomophobia, the fear of not being able to use your smartphone or other device.

The term is an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia,” which was coined during a 2010 study by the UK Post Office.

The Data is Clear… Smartphones Negatively Impact Teen Mental Health

The HLN interview was aired in response to a new study from Korea University, which found that teen boys with internet or smartphone addiction had higher levels of brain neurotransmitters associated with poor focus and impulse control. The addicted teens also had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

In the interview, Ted spoke about the symptoms of cell phone addiction and withdrawal that he sees when teens come to Newport Academy and voluntarily turn over their phones.

“I see high levels of anxiety and high levels of discomfort,” he says. “They’re finding that they have to cope with new situations, and they’re used to looking at a phone [instead]. They almost have to relearn life through our program.”

Ted noted that, while smartphones and social media are powerful tools, they can also be detrimental—especially for teens, whose brains and sense of self are still developing.

“Teenagers’ worldview and relationships are just being formed now,” Ted says in the interview. “[They are] especially threatened because, from the ages of 12 to 17, it’s teenagers’ job to figure out their identity and who they are. When we live in a ‘like culture,’ other people’s approval, other people’s affirmation, is one of the most powerful things there is.”

Mental Health Resources: Nomophobia Smartphone Addiction

What Parents Can Do to Help

Ted calls the smartphone “the enemy of mindfulness,” and recommends that families make careful choices about how they’re engaging with their devices. He suggests limiting kids’ screen time, and encouraging them to engage authentically with other people and the world around them.

A great way to do that is by getting out in nature, Ted says. “One of the things that brings me joy is taking our kids for runs, and one of the ways I can see a client’s progress is when they stop and say, ‘This is pretty!’ When I hear a 17-year-old talk about how pretty a tree can be, that’s about as far from the technological mainline as you can get.”

Watch the Full Interview with Ted