Have Smartphones Changed a Generation?

Sharon Yen, Psychotherapist

Today’s teens face a challenging paradox: the digital tools they need to complete their homework are often the source of their biggest  distractions.
Due to the policy of online learning to prevent the further outbreak of coronavirus, many teens have attended online classes since February 2020. They find themselves quickly become overwhelmed by the daily confluence of online interactions with schoolwork, extracurricular  activities, and social life. Since unnecessary going out is not encouraged  during this period, parents are increasingly concerned that excessive internet usage is robbing their teens of real-world experiences. It’s  common for parents to notice beyond online learning, teenagers are filling their free time with other internet activities, such as social networking, instant messaging, blogging, downloading, gaming, etc. According to a recent study (2017), the overall prevalence of Internet  Addiction in China is 26.50%, with severe addiction being 0.96%. Internet Addiction was higher among males than females (30.6% versus 21.2%). Older grade students reported more Internet addiction rates. The five highest-ranked online activities were social networking (94.73%), school work (86.53%), entertainment (82.44%), Internet  gaming (73.42%), and shopping online (33.67%).

What to do to stop the excess internet use to take over and deteriorate our teens’ life? Here are some strategies we can try: 
Have the right conversation regarding internet usage.
Many parents complain that whenever they try to start a conversation with the teens, teens always respond to them in a  short or passive way. On the teen’s perspective, however, they try to  avoid the conversation is because they believe their parents are going to lecture them, or demonize the cellphone usage, or engage  in sort of one-way communication. Hence, having the “right  conversation” with teens is very important. Parents can start the  conversation by recognizing there are good things about  smartphones. We must admit that the internet is a powerful tool to  have an enjoyable experience, yet it may cause problems, too.
Stay connected to your teens’ even when they are in their virtual  world.
Parents can share the wonderful moment with teens during the screen  time, even though your teens are engaging in something you do not  fully understand. Below are some sentences you may try to understand  them more. 
(When he is playing video games in a team mode) Wow, it seems to me  your team is winning lots of points!
(When he is chatting with his good friend with smiles on his face) It  seems that he/she is very supportive of you.
Respond to teens’ opinions and feelings in a non-judgmental way.
For teens (and adult as well), sometimes using a cellphone is a just way to escape from reality temporarily. Smartphone may be a tool to  regulate their negative emotions. When children turns in to teenagers,  they are afraid that their opinions won’t be accepted, or afraid that  their feelings are not to be verified by others. If they have alternative  ways to regulate their emotions, they may likely try.
Make yourself an example to promote accurate internet use.
Set reasonable rules about when and where to use (or not to use) the  smartphone and make yourself a good example by showing them you  do what you preach. Examples of the rules are: 
(1) Stop using the smartphone at least one hour before sleep.
(2) Use the smartphone in the living room or in an open area.
(3) Please do not use it during mealtime.
(4) Complete homework before using the smartphone as recreation.
(5) Do not multitasks. Do one task at a time.
It’s very important to set yourself a good example when you try to promote smartphone usage well-being to your teens. If your teens  have difficulties maintaining a routine, or having conditions such as  withdrawal from social interaction, insomnia, irritability, and losing personal interests after applying the above strategies, then it’s time to  consult a mental health professional to get the right help. The earlier  we figure out the core issues, the earlier we can reconnect to our teens and use the smartphone as a tool to promote their well-being.
Sharon YEN 
Clinical Psychologist Mental Health Department Shanghai United Family Pudong HospitalMs. Yen has over 10 years of clinical experience and was the director of the clinical teaching protect in her hospital. Moreover, she has worked with special education teacher as an online instructor of a rehab center in Shanghai. Before joining United Family Healthcare Shanghai Area hospitals and clinics, Ms. Yen served in Cathay General Hospital as a specialist in cognitive and developmental assessment, MBCT (Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), play therapy, family counselling, treatment for anxiety disorders, insomnia and depression. In addition, she is also a certificated school psychologist in Educational Bureau of  New Taipei City and Keelung City, Taiwan. She is good at combining educational and medical approaches to help the clients. Ms. Yen is certified by the Association of Taiwan Clinical Psychologists, China. She is also a member of Shanghai International Mental Health Association.In addition to her clinical work, Ms. Yen also served as a school consultant in Keelung Resource Center of Special Education, China.Ms. Yen published several articles in medical journals, including Chinese Journal of Mental Health and Fu-Jen Journal of Medicine. Ms. Yen applied a clinical intervention specific for children with ADHD and dysgraphia. The result was published in the Annual Meeting of the Taiwan Association of Clinical psychology in 2014 and Ms. Yen won the Best Research Award. Meanwhile, she won the Teaching Excellence Awards of Taiwan Cathay Hospital in 2012 and 2013.

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