Warning signs of smartphone addiction

Warning signs of smartphone addiction
PHOTO: Warning signs of smartphone addiction

SINGAPORE - It is not only young children who are at risk of becoming too attached to smart devices. Older children and adults can become hooked on such devices too.

The main difference between a heavy smartphone user and a problematic smartphone user is that for the former, the use does not interfere with his work, relationships or life, said Dr Tan Hwee Sim, a specialist in psychiatry and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre, who has clinical interests in addictions.

"There is no universal agreement as to the specific criteria for 'smartphone addiction', whether it is a mental disorder or, indeed, whether it is a disorder at all," she said.

As smartphone addiction is not an established mental disorder, the criteria for substance use disorder can usually be applied to problematic smartphone use, she said.

These include:

  • The person using the device more than he intended to. For instance, he would tell himself that he would spend only an hour on the device but ends up spending the whole night on it.
  • Showing a desire to cut down on or control how much he uses the device but is unable to.
  • Craving the use of the device.
  • Continuing to use the device despite negative consequences, such as deteriorating academic results.
  • Neglecting important activities, such as schoolwork or housework, because of time spent using the device.
  • Using the device in situations in which it is physically hazardous, for example, when driving or crossing the road.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or irritability, when withdrawing from the use of the device.


Dr Tan suggested the following ways to help parents stem problematic use of smartphones.

1. Recognise that the usage is out of control

"Some people are able to modify their behaviour once they have an insight into the negative consequences that their behaviour causes," said Dr Tan.

"If there is any underlying issue that may cause or support the problematic usage, it needs to be addressed. Examples include depression, anxiety, stress or self-esteem and social skills issues."

A formal consultation may be needed to assess what issues are involved, she said.

2. Modify usage

By keeping a log on how much time is spent using a device for non-essential activities, a person can set goals to reduce such usage.

3. Set rules

Lay down some guidelines for not using the smartphone in certain situations. For example, when driving, eating, spending time with the family or when in the bedroom.

4. Eliminate data plan

If a person is still unable to control his usage despite these efforts, he should consider using a device with no data plan, so he cannot surf the Internet on it, in order to break the habit.

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