Is cell phone addiction real?

Switch off the cell phone and simply be unavailable for hours. Anyone who thinks that children and young people in particular have a hard time doing this is wrong. Today they grow up with smartphones and tablets as a matter of course and are therefore at risk of addiction, says Dr. Jessika Weiß, Deputy Director of the Clinic and Polyclinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. But the doctor also experiences that parents are often bad role models. In the SZ interview, she explains when cell phone consumption should alert and how parents can recognize warning signals.

Frau Weiß, how do you define cell phone addiction?

This is difficult. The official classification of physical and mental illnesses does not include cell phone or online addiction in our health system. At least not yet. One criterion for the presence of an addictive disease are withdrawal symptoms as soon as one can no longer consume the addictive substance. And if other things about addiction are neglected - for example school or work, personal hygiene, eating and drinking, but also the shift in the wake-sleep rhythm ‘. In spite of everything, it is difficult to differentiate between cell phone addiction because the transitions into everyday life are so fluid.

But is excessive cell phone use definitely a disease for you?

If I could decide that, I would classify cell phone addiction as a disease. The psychological dependence is very high, it is just as difficult to get rid of the cell phone as of other addictions.

How many patients do you have who are addicted to cell phones?

Officially, we don't have one because it is not a classified disease. What we can say, however, is that mobile phone addiction usually never occurs alone. In many cases, there are also comorbidities such as depression and anxiety or problems with peers that tend towards a social phobia.

Are there any risk groups?

These are children and young people who have few real friendships. Who meet classmates at school, but otherwise have very few social relationships. Those for whom all leisure activities are carried out on the mobile phone. People with low self-esteem, who become very dependent on the opinion of others, are also at risk. For example, they have the feeling that they always have to be online because otherwise the others will no longer like them if they don't immediately respond to a message.

How can you or parents check your child: When is mobile phone use too much?

That's an exciting question. We often see parents say that their children are too busy with their cell phones. But when it comes to turning off the cell phone in the evening and putting it away completely to spend time with the family, adults usually have the bigger problem. You can say, as soon as you have the feeling that you can't go without it, you should pay attention. If I come under pressure, if the cell phone is silent or out of range, these are also alarm signals. In the case of cell phone addiction, however, you can't say that two hours are okay and everything about it is pathological. The cell phone is too much of an everyday item for that.

How does cell phone addiction change personality?

Even high cell phone consumption alone does not manage that. I would rather say that cell phone addiction entrenches mental illness or personality disorders. For example, when you withdraw more and more from real everyday life.

What advice do you give parents? When and how should children come into contact with cell phones?

Actually one should say, best as late as possible. But of course there is social pressure. If a child is the only one who doesn't have a cell phone, they may become an outsider because they won't notice when the others are meeting. That is why support is particularly important. Parents need to train their children, make them aware of dangers and, above all, make rules. For example, that the child does not take the cell phone to the room to sleep. Or that it is switched off during meals together and when homework is done. And you shouldn't forget: Good role models are very important.

Aren't they always parents?

No. As part of behavioral experiments, we experience in family groups that parents find it more difficult than their children to go without a cell phone for 24 hours. The adults discuss this a lot more because they feel they have to be available. If you think about it for a long time, however, you usually realize that my boss doesn't really expect that from me. And still you don't manage to get involved in the experiment.

What makes cell phone addiction so dangerous?

Above all, the fact that it is mostly a downstream phenomenon. Patients come for other things and then it turns out that their media consumption is very problematic. This is what makes the disease so treacherous. In addition, complete abstinence is hardly compatible with reality, but that makes it much more difficult because the temptation is always there.

High cell phone use has a reputation for making people lonely. Young people often argue against the fact that they connect the cell phone much more intensively with the outside world. What do you think?

That they feel a connection that is not real. Social competence also includes sorting friendships into different levels of trust. The question of how much I can trust a friend is not answered on the Internet, but in real life. In addition, if someone only communicates online, real conversations are difficult because they don't have time to work on the perfect answer. I definitely experience that people of the same age cannot talk for five minutes because they are overwhelmed with the speed of direct speech and counter-speech. This increases the fear of real relationships. As long as there are still real relationships with a child, adolescent or even adult, parents can relax first. Just not everything should shift in the Internet.

The interview was conducted by Melanie Schröder

Further texts on the first part of the challenge "A week without a mobile phone":

One week without a mobile phone - day 1

Cell phones are banned in many schools