By Elise Gingold
It’s no myth that teenagers today are trying to cope with higher levels of depression and anxiety than ever before. With new access to unlimited information and ideas, phones have become more of a plunging, never-ending hole of our time. Spending endless amounts of time on our phones leaves us feeling unproductive and unfulfilled, so with the surge in popularity of phones and technology in the past decade, it’s no surprise that rates of mental illness are growing as well. The rise in mental illness in the past twenty years is concerning on its own, but even more concerning is how it’s affecting teenagers in such a crucial time of development when teenagers are still trying to discover themselves.
“During adolescence and early adulthood, our brains undergo both a growth and rewiring of sorts that could make us more susceptible to any kind of substance abuse or screen addiction,” says Lynda Costello, a psychology teacher at New Paltz High School. “App developers are often well versed in neuroscience and specifically target the reward center of their brain in their apps to create dopamine hits. This gets us to keep using the apps and returning like a drug.”
When we are on our phones and are endlessly scrolling, we may feel the need or desire to step away from the phone, but somehow it feels impossible to do so. Due to the instant gratification using phones gives us, we become ‘hooked’, and start to feel worse about ourselves and guilty about why we almost can’t stop. It may be hard to limit one’s screen time, but adopting a few useful and peaceful habits may be the right way to help.
“I’ve been trying to start a habit of reading before bed. I do love to read, but the overall intent is to cut down on my screen time during the day,” Solana Cantú, 17, says. “Reading is one of the several things I’ve done to fill in the extra time in my day I’ve been spending on my phone.”
Reading has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress, as reading fictional books in particular can serve as a meditation of sorts, which can promote relaxation (Kaczmarek). Individuals who read each day experience slower heart rates, lower muscle tension, and more. This can be immensely beneficial to a teenager in order to find more peace and balance with the challenges of every day life, but especially as a way to reduce time spent on the phone. Next time, instead of picking up the phone, try picking up a book.
“According to sleep scientists, anything that gives off ambient light can interfere with circadian rhythm and disrupt our natural sleep patterns,” Costello adds. “I’d say cut yourself off at least an hour before you sleep, use low light and maybe read a book instead of screens.”
With grabbing the phone becoming instinctive to many teenagers today, it can be important to create a routine in order to help stay away from that instinct as having an everyday, but flexible routine can help one stick to their goals.
“I have a pretty regimented nighttime routine, which always makes me feel more on top of my life and ready for the next day,” Sophia Luczak, a senior at New Paltz High School, says, “I write in my journal and pick 4 tarot cards every night, and I also try to read every night.”
Taking time out of one’s day to make sure that one can take time for themselves is an essential part of a teenager’s routine (Beresin and Braaten). Making sure to carve some time out for oneself is a great way to fit in hobbies and habits that are healthy and beneficial, such as exercise, creativity, or rest.
Cantú says, “Having a specific slot of time free every day to work out, do homework or both is very helpful to maintaining a non-stressful schedule.”
While many think of free time as during the day or evening, carving a slot of phone-free time does not need to be just before bed.
“I also used to go on my phone right after waking up, and I realized whenever I would do that immediately after waking up, I would end up spending a lot more time on my phone during the day,” Luczak adds. “Now I try to get up and do something else before using my phone.”
Checking our phones may be the first thing we want to do in the morning, but the time when we first wake up is important to have to ourselves to properly wake up and feel more relaxed. Seeing scrolls of notifications first thing in the morning may disrupt our natural process of waking up, by feelings of stress, overwhelm, or more, depending on what we see.
Oftentimes, it can be hard to imagine ourselves leaving the house or forgetting about our devices for a few hours, but it’s important to realize how damaging these objects can be, especially to developing teenagers, already dealing with a myriad of changes and growth. Adopting a routine such as reading, carving time out for yourself, is truly the way to limit time spent dissociating from the reality we live in and to bring peace to ourselves.