Researchers say comparisons are harming adult & child wellbeing
Problematic smartphone use is harming wellbeing, researchers from Deakin University have found, with the findings being of relevance to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector as the research demonstrates a third of preschoolers have access to a “smart” device.
With more and more educators gaining professional advice and support from social media settings, the study, published recently in Computers in Human Behaviour, will also be of interest to educators, being the first of its kind to thoroughly evaluate how smartphone use is associated with measures of subjective and psychological wellbeing.
More than 500 Victorians were surveyed, with the findings showing that problematic smartphone use was associated with feelings of negative emotions, lack of control, a reduced sense of purpose in life, and a reduced ability to resist social pressure.
Lead researcher, Dr Sharon Horwood, said the data showed that habitual smartphone use – such as using the phone to relax, escape, and pass time – was a predictor of lower wellbeing.
“There’s a constant stream of news and entertainment in our life now, and if that content is not necessarily positive it might be contributing to technological overload or techno-exhaustion,” Dr Horwood said. Whilst there has been some analysis of smartphone use and subjective wellbeing in the past, Dr Horwood said, this study goes into much greater depth.
“Past research has examined wellbeing in terms of life satisfaction and whether people tend to experience more positive emotions than negative emotions.This research offers a more complete picture of what makes the ‘good life’ including positive social relationships, a sense of personal growth, autonomy, and having a sense of control over one’s life.”
While researchers found that smartphone use is unrelated to people’s overall life satisfaction, it is associated with mood, and broader indicators of ‘human flourishing’.
“Wellbeing is about feeling satisfied with your life, managing day-to-day activities, and positive relationships. We found that problematic smart phone use impacts on all those things.” Dr Horwood said, before offering the four main areas of wellbeing which were warning signs of problematic use:
- how much control people felt they had over their use;
- environmental mastery, whether smartphone use interferes with a person’s day-to-day life, including job and study;
- whether the phone gets in the way of positive relationships with others;
- and whether smart phone use was a panacea for boredom and lack of personal growth.
“The question is, does using your smartphone in a problematic way lower wellbeing, or is someone whose wellbeing is low for other reasons more likely to turn to their smartphone for comfort, distraction, or perhaps escapism?” she said.
Dr Horwood was quick to point out that the study showed smartphone use “wasn’t all bad” – communication use, such as calls and text messages – were associated with positive wellbeing, adding “using phones to facilitate a direct connection with people seems to be good, as opposed to passively looking at what people are doing on social media.”
The next step in Dr Horwood’s research will be a number of new studies designed to “drill down” into the impact of smartphone use on children’s social and emotional wellbeing, and the impact on family relationships.
“The ubiquity of smartphones is almost at saturation point” Dr Horwood said, pointing out that a third of preschoolers have some sort of personal device, alongside 67 per cent of primary aged children with access to a smartphone.
“That exposure can have lots of potential negative effects including cyber bullying, anxiety and depression, sedentary behaviour, low body image, and family conflict, so it’s something we need to start addressing at a young age. The sooner we can implement healthy behaviours, the easier these issues will be to manage.”
Dr Horwood’s tips for healthy smartphone use:
- Turn off all non-essential notifications so your phone isn’t constantly interrupting you.
- Set aside a block of time per day to look at your social media feeds, if that’s what typically distracts you.
- Use the screen time functions on your phone to set limits on daily phone use.
- To improve your sleep quality, don’t keep your phone beside your bed at night. Preferably charge it in a different room.
- If you find your socialising is restricted to your smartphone, aim to build daily interactions with people in real life.
- Try to get up and move more throughout the day to reduce sedentary behaviour and improve your mental well-being.
For more information about Dr Horwood’s research visit http://www.blackscreens.com.au/
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