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Curing Students of Nomophobia

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Do you know this word? Nomophobia is a term describing a growing fear in today's world -- the fear of being without a mobile device, or beyond mobile phone contact. Among today's high school and college students, it's on the rise:

  • An increasing number of college students now shower with their cell phone.
  • The average adolescent would rather lose a pinky-finger than a cell phone.
  • A growing percentage text or tweet instead of actually talking to others.

Nomophobia is everywhere in industrialized nations. The term is an abbreviation for "no-mobile-phone phobia," which was coined during a 2010 study by the UK Post Office. The Post Office commissioned YouGov, a research organization, to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that nearly 53 percent of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they "lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage."

The study found that about 58 percent of men and 47 percent of women suffer from the phobia, and an additional 9 percent feel stressed when their mobile phones are off. The study sampled 2,163 people. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed cited keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason that they got anxious when they could not use their mobile phones. The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on par with those of "wedding day jitters" and trips to the dentists.

In the U.S., it's gotten worse...

  1. Sixty-five percent, or about two in three people, sleep with or next to their smart phones. (Among college students, it's even higher).
  2. Thirty-four percent admitted to answering their cell phone during intimacy with their partner. (Hey, what happened to valuing the person you are with in-person?)
  3. One in five people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone. (It's a good way to lose your sole and your soul).
  4. More than half never switch off their phone. (I'd call that an addiction).
  5. A full 66 percent of all adults suffer from "nomophobia."

It's time to take a break

Whenever I find myself needing something in order to cope, I always check my lifestyle and my health. This may sound crazy, but my rule of thumb is that I don't allow myself to be brought under the control of anything. Outside of food, water and shelter, I guard myself against subjection to any addiction that begins to dictate my behavior. This includes technology. I recognize that cell phones, tablets, computers and other technology introduced in the future will make my life easier and enable me to work more efficiently. My principle, though, is this: Technology should be a servant, not a master.

So what should we do to model a balanced approach for students?

  • Be sure there are daily times you turn off the cell phone and experience either face-to-face conversations or solitude.
  • Balance screen time and in-person time each week. For every hour you invest in front of a screen, you invest in human contact.
  • Try a technology fast every month, where you actually go for a day or more without a computer, tablet or phone. You'll feel liberated.
  • Place your phone at least 15 feet away from you when you sleep at night. I realize you'll have to get up to push "snooze," but it's safer this way.
  • Block your day in time zones, where you spend time using technology, but also have blocks of time for organic, genuine interaction with people.

Do you see signs of nomophobia? What else would you add to my list above?