How to Measure Whether Your Kids Are Addicted to Smartphones

Your kids probably shouldn’t have smartphones. But if they do, there’s a good chance they suffer from nomophobia—fear of being left without a mobile device.

Your kids probably shouldn’t have smartphones. But if they do, there’s a good chance they suffer from nomophobia, fear of being left without a mobile device. Smartphone addiction is hardly a joking matter. Scattered reports suggest that some people have chosen to commit suicide rather than part with their mobile devices and one addiction therapist recently said that giving children smartphones is like “giving them a gram of cocaine.” That’s an alarmist quote to be sure, but the dopamine reward cycle set off by smartphone interactions is inarguably dangerous. Even experts offering more carefully worded cautions claim that smartphone addiction can be as insidious as other non-physical addictions (think: compulsive gambling or shopping).

But how is a parent to know the difference between a healthy, engaged child who uses his or her iPhone appropriately and a budding smartphone addict? Who’s to say whether our own smartphone use is compulsive, or simply something we enjoy doing for hours on end? Fortunately, there’s a method to measuring smartphone addiction, and you can try it at home. Researchers from Iowa State University constructed a 20-question survey that parents can score on their own to highlight possible smartphone addiction among their children.

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Meet The Nomophobia Scale

Ask your child the following questions (or answer them yourself). Rate your answer to each question on a scale of 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”), and tally up your score. A score between 20 and 60 is nothing to worry about. But the Iowa State study suggests 61-100 indicates “moderate nomophobia”, and a score of 101 to 120 could be cause for concern.   

  1. I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
  2. I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
  3. Being unable to get the news (e.g., happenings, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.
  4. I would be annoyed if I could not use my smartphone and/or its capabilities when I wanted to do so.
  5. Running out of battery in my smartphone would scare me.
  6. If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.
  7. If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to wifi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a wifi network.
  8. If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
  9. If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel a desire to check it.

If I did not have my smartphone with me …

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  1. I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.
  2. I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.
  3. I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.
  4. I would be anxious because I could not keep in touch with my family and/or friends.
  5. I would be nervous because I could not know if someone had tried to get a hold of me.
  6. I would feel anxious because my constant connection to my family and friends would be broken.
  7. I would be nervous because I would be disconnected from my online identity.
  8. I would be uncomfortable because I could not stay up-to-date with social media and online networks.
  9. I would feel awkward because I could not check my notifications for updates from my connections and online networks.
  10. I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.
  11. I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.

So, My Kid Is A Full-Blown Addict. What Now?

The key to handling smartphone addiction — whether your child’s or your own — is setting limits, clinical psychologist Lisa Strohman told Psychology Today. She suggests children avoid keeping their smartphones in bed with them, so that they don’t end their evenings and start their day by swiping. When socializing in person, she suggests a hard-and-fast no phone policy. And she suggests uninstalling apps and deactivating noises or buzzes that draw too much of your child’s attention toward his or her mobile device.

If the issue becomes very serious, a parent might even consider taking away the smartphone or setting time limits for use, only allowing a few minutes or hours of cell phone use per day. Regardless, if you or your child ranks around 120 on the nomophobia scale, now is the right time to shed the bonds of your smartphone.  

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