How Your Smartphone Is Making You and Your Teenager Dumb and Depressed!

smartphone making you dumber

Your smartphone. Smartphones are very cool devices. You can text, Snapchat, or email from anywhere. You can find your way through traffic using Google Maps or Waze. Find a good restaurant with Tripadvisor or Yelp. Take pictures and send them to all of your friends and family instantly. Nothing but upside right?

Wrong! Multiple research studies show that our smartphones are actually making us dumber, and maybe more depressed as well. Let’s look at some interesting facts. I’ve written previously about smartphone use and happiness but wanted to revisit the subject with more data.

Fact One: The average smartphone user looks at their phone 80 times a day, according to Apple.

Other reports suggest that people look at their phone 130 times a day. That means 30,000 to 47,000 times a year! Each of those glances distracts you from your current circumstances, and if you are trying to do something complex, or learn something, you are getting dumber 30,000 to 47,000 times a year! That’s a lot of time to lose. And since studies show it takes 25 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from distraction, that means you are losing 526 days a year, which is more than a year, which means that you are basically distracted and dumber all the time.

Fact Two: The closer your phone is to you, the dumber you get.

The University of California, San Diego conducted a study of 520 undergraduate students. The students took two tests of intellectual functioning.  The main variable in the study was where student put their phones. Some students put the phones in front of them on the desk, others put the phone in their pockets or purses, and others left their phones in an adjoining room.

The results: the closer the phone was, the dumber the person based on the test results. Phone in front of you, bad, phone in your pocket or purse, a little better, and phone in the next room, best results. And remember, this was with participants never checking their phones!

Fact Three: We don’t realize how much our phones impair our performance.

All of the participants in the UC study later said their phone was not a distraction, and that they never thought about their phones during the experiment. This shows we don’t even recognize the damage our phones are doing to our minds.

Fact Four: Smartphones bring down college grades by one whole letter grade when brought to class!

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found that those students who left their phones at home scored a full grade higher on material presented in the classroom than those who had their phones in class. It did not matter whether the students used their phones or not. In another study from the U.K. found that when schools ban smartphones, test scores go up a lot, with the worst students benefiting the most.

Fact Five: Your smartphone makes you worse at relationships as well.

Another study from the U.K. had 142 people divided into pairs and asked to talk in private. Half had a phone in the room, while the other half had no phone. The pairs then rated each other for affinity, trust, and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”

Fact Six: It Is Worse For Teenagers

According to Neilson, teenagers send and receive 3,339  texts per month, which is about 7 texts per hour, or one text every 8.5 minutes. Actually, it is worse. Let’s assume that most teens don’t text during classes. That means outside of class, they are texting about 12 times an hour, or once every 6 minutes.

iphone woman

This can’t be good for learning or memory.  Imagine you are trying to learn something hard, and every 6 minutes someone asks you a question and you have to respond. How’s your performance? And since we know that distraction lasts 25 minutes, that basically means that all teenagers are distracted every minute that they are awake and not in class.

What’s even worse is that smartphone usage also affects happiness. The Monitoring The Future Survey, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has collected data on 10th graders and 12th graders for decades. They asked teens how happy they are and how much time they spend on various activities including non-screen activities like socializing and exercise, and screen activities such as social media, browsing the web, or texting.

The results? All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness! Eighth graders who spent 10 or more hours a week on social media were 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy. Even those who spent six hours a week on social media were still 47% more likely to say that they were unhappy. And even more ominously, the more time that teenagers spent looking at screens the more likely they were to report symptoms of depression. Teens who spent three hours a day or more on electronic devices were 35% more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide.

Here are a few somewhat radical suggestions:

  1. This one teenagers will really hate. What if parents took away smartphones from their kids, and gave them flip phones, for phone calls only? Turned off texting on the phone. I suspect the average teenager’s grades would go up a grade. Not to mention better learning and memory. Flip phones would allow teenagers to call their parents for a ride, thus having much of the convenience factor without any of the negative smartphone factors.
  2. If this is not practical then I would recommend that parents take smartphones from their children when they arrive home from school, put them in a locked drawer, and only give them back the next morning. Certainly, there should be no access to smartphones while studying or doing homework. When children have finished their homework and are in relaxation mode, they can have limited access to their smartphone, but only until a reasonable hour because the use of smartphones before bedtime is very disruptive to sleep.
  3. For adults, leave your phone in your car trunk when having dinner out. You’ll connect with your dinner partner much better.
  4. For families, all smartphones, tablets, laptop computers go away before every family meal. Unless you are a physician on call, nothing is so important that you can’t put away your smartphone and have a nice family dinner.
  5. Finally, consider a digital device Sabbath. Orthodox Jews do not use any digital devices during Sabbath, which starts Friday night and ends Saturday night. All of us should emulate this, and pick a day on the weekend which is a digital-free day.

I am reminded of the first time I met my friend Fred Luskin, a psychologist who studies stress and forgiveness. I was attending a workshop he led. At the beginning, he asked everyone to take out their smartphones and turn them off. Not “turn off the ringer” or “set to vibrate” but actually power down the phones. Participants were shocked and resistant. It took a few minutes for him to get people to actually turn off their phones. At the time I wondered about this, but now I can see that it makes a big difference. When your phone is powered down, you are not anticipating anything from it, so that little bit of attention that is always focused on the phone is freed up for other purposes.

Now I’m going to turn off my computer and my phone, go outside, and take a walk…

Gallup Survey Shows Stay-At-Home Moms Suffer More Depression

Are stay-at-home moms more depressed than working mothers? In a Gallup poll released last week, stay-at-home moms showed a 28% depression rate compared to 17% of working mothers and 17% of working women without children.

Stay-at-home mothers reported more anger, stress, sadness, and worry. They were more likely to report themselves as struggling and suffering!

This is very important data. According to Gallup, stay-at-home moms make up 37% of mothers with kids living at home.

So who are these stay-at-home moms? Contrary to the mythical model of the rich stay-at-home mom who bounces between yoga class, tennis, pilates, and home to the nanny, the reality of stay-at-home moms is much grimmer. They tend to be poorer on average, younger, Latina, less likely to have graduated from high school or college, and more likely to have been foreign-born.

Here’s some more data directly from the Gallup report, which explored the well-being of 60,000 U.S. women in 2012.

In terms of worry 41% of stay-at-home moms reported worry, compared to 34% of employed moms and 31% of employed women without children.

In terms of sadness 26% of the stay-at-home moms reported it, compared to 16% of employed moms and 16% of employed women without children.

In terms of depression, almost a third of the stay-at-home moms (28%) reported depression, while only 17% of employed moms and 17% of employed women without children reported depression.

The only negative emotion that didn’t vary very much was stress. 50% of stay-at-home moms reported stress, but 48% of employed moms and 45% of employed women without children also reported stress. So apparently stress is pretty much the same across the board for women.

In terms of anger, 19% of stay-at-home moms reported it, while 14% of employed moms and only 12% of employed women without children reported anger.

What about positive emotions? Even though Gallup makes much of the lower ratings of positive emotions for stay-at-home moms, the numbers don’t reflect very large differences. 42% of stay-at-home moms reported themselves as struggling, while 36% of employed moms and 38% of employed women without children reported themselves as struggling. Not a very large difference and probably not statistically significant. What’s interesting about this data is that so many women, regardless of their parenting status, report themselves as struggling. This is quite troubling. I’d be very curious to see comparative data on men.

This is interesting research and completely consistent with some other research that was conducted by Daniel Kahneman and associates on women’s experienced happiness performing various activities. He looked at the percentage of time that women spent in unhappy mood states. Parenting activities showed a 24% on happiness ratio as compared to 18% for housework, 12% for socializing, 12% for TV watching, and 5% for sex! Even though children are delightful, parenting is hard work, and there are many negative emotions associated with it. Working outside the home has negative emotions also, with a 27% unhappy emotion ratio, but it also has rewards and recognition that the lonely job of parenting does not have.

So what should we make of all this research? What wasn’t investigated by Gallup is the relative advantages versus disadvantages for the children of stay-at-home moms versus working moms. So we don’t know if there are significant benefits to the children, which might compensate for the higher levels of suffering reported by stay-at-home moms. I may come back to this issue in a future blog post.

In any case, it suggests that stay-at-home moms need much better support systems from our society, and that we also need to develop better ways for women split time at home and work. Currently there are few options for women who wish to work part-time at satisfying jobs. Because child care in the United States is so expensive, it is difficult for poorer women to stay in the workforce. This may lead to higher levels of depression and suffering in women.

From a clinical perspective, psychotherapists need to be alerted to be extra careful to screen stay-at-home moms for depression and anxiety disorders. I have a quick depression screening test on my website which stay-at-home moms can use to identify if they are suffering depression. If so, call someone for help. Don’t suffer in silence.