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RBHS students use their phones during a lunch period.

Students struggle with over attachment to smartphones

Instead of studying for her chemistry test, junior Sam Pokharel was watching “Grey’s Anatomy.” On the surface, the sight of seeing the junior engrossed in the screen of her laptop may bring about judgments of the situation: Pokharel was apathetic about the upcoming exam.

The truth, however, couldn’t be more of the opposite.

Pokharel was acutely aware of all the work she was ignoring as she watched the show and felt the physical weight of stress build as she continued watching. Sometimes, she panics so much that she has to stop and take a couple of deep breaths. She also had the same feelings while on her phone when she should be finishing work. She’ll sit on her phone and endlessly scroll through the explore page, and she’ll send countless Snapchats to her friends.

“[I feel attached to my phone] all the time. I just need to catch up with everyone. I feel the need to be constantly updated about everything,” Pokharel said. “And I think it also has to do a big part with the fact that I recently got a Snap[chat] so it’s something fairly new to me and I’ve been liking it a lot because I can catch up with my friends easily.”

Part of the reason Pokharel uses her phone so much now is that she got social media accounts around four months ago. She said she described her time before having social media as “being in the dark” and now feels it is a norm to her everyday life. It’s so normalized now that she struggles with turning the device off, even when she is aware and anxious about her schoolwork.

“[I got social media] because all my friends told me to, but I’m regretting that so much ‘cause it’s affecting my school work,” Pokharel said. “[Because] I’m constantly on my phone instead of doing homework and my grades are slipping, and when it’s before a test, I start panicking because I don’t know the content.”

Pokharel is not the only teen who experiences this attachment. 50 percent of teenagers feel addicted to their mobile devices, a study by Common Sense Media reported.

Further studies link excessive phone usage to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, yet others say there is little evidence that the former causes any of the latter.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information said there was no clear distinction whether problematic phone use coexists with or is a consequence of psychological comorbidities.

Advanced Placement (AP) United States History teacher Deborah McDonough has seen during the past five years in her classroom that students have misused technology, and it impacts their abilities. In writing especially, she said students struggle with convention errors, such as run-on sentences, misused pronouns, incorrect punctuation, and keeping a singular idea throughout essays. She worries overuse of technology will continue to hinder students.

“I’m not sure anyone can ‘control’ technology in the classroom. There are students who can unplug and stay engaged in what is taking place in the classroom while there are students who are completely addicted to their phones,” McDonough said. “My teaching partner and I give students warnings about misuse of electronic devices, and if it continues, we contact parents for support. We are not opposed to writing office referrals if necessary.”

For the future, McDonough hopes students can display freedom with responsibility when using their devices, as she believes they are not being responsible at the moment. Though she knows it’s impractical to take cell phones away from students while they’re in school, she hopes students can learn to take initiative themselves.  

One student who excels with these responsibilities is senior Anusha Mishra. Mishra feels confident in her ability to use her phone responsibly. Other than in the summer when she has  relatively little work to do, Mishra typically utilizes her phone as a tool to complete her schoolwork and other productive activities, while also entertaining herself with it while taking breaks between assignments. Her phone usage feels easy to control for her, as she feels comfortable stepping away from her phone when it’s affecting her productivity.

“I naturally don’t have a problem going off my phone, so usually I can just put it down without much thought. I have more motivation to work than I do to keep myself entertained,” Mishra said. “I’ve also deleted apps before if it consistently causes me to get distracted. After they’ve been gone for a while then I can usually download them again and be better controlled with that specific app.”

Instagram is the only app she’s had to delete. She realized she spent a lot of time scrolling through her feed to procrastinate her work and felt little enjoyment while doing it.

Around her, Mishra says others have a stronger connection with their phones. She said most people at school keep their phones on their desk or in their hands all the time, and that even at social gatherings, others will sometimes go on their phones instead of talking. In those situations, when interaction is lacking, Mishra will go on her phone, too, just to have something to do.

“Other people seem to be more attached to their phones. Like at parties I feel kind of repelled by my phone; I have no interest in being on my phone because it would be more fun to talk to my friends. At parties, though, everyone inevitably goes on their phone. I’m not really sure why,” Mishra said. “It seems like most people use their phones as a way of saying, ‘don’t worry, I have friends.’ On a more surface level, people want to be engaged in something all the time and a phone is the easiest way to do that.”

In her own life, Pokharel hopes to use her phone less in general. Though she finds enjoyment on social media, she also feels guilty when she neglects her work. For others, she has some advice, and she hopes to use it herself.

“I would honestly say use [your phone] but just a healthy amount,” Pokharel said. “Like maybe to reward yourself, but know your limits ‘cause no one can tell you to stop except yourself.”

How many hours of screen time do you get per day? Let us know in the comments below!

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2 comments

Karina February 5, 2019 at 5:04 pm

This was an interesting story to read even though it was posted so far back. I’ve always wondered how someone could spend so much time on social media. For me personally, I spend a lot of time on my phone reading, which is better than scrolling through social media, but also takes up a lot of time.

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Elliot B December 20, 2018 at 3:55 pm

I do see this as a growing problem, not just for teenagers. And I don’t see it getting any better.

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