Many of us find it difficult to stop scrolling on our phones and in some cases there are people who are even addicted to it. But how can you tell if the time you spend online is a problem?
University of Surrey researchers The UK set out to find out by gathering almost 800 participants and dividing their online usage – mostly on their smartphones – into five groups, providing a new measurement of the “internet addiction spectrum”. According to the study’s lead author, the aim of the research was to distinguish between problematic Internet use, such as feeling anxious when not online, and actual addiction to it.
Here’s what the researchers found and what two psychologists had to say about these results.
What the study says
Not surprisingly, the younger the person, the greater the likelihood of Internet addiction. As for the statistics, volunteers ages 24 and under spent an average of six hours a day online, while those over 24 spent about 4.6 hours on their devices each day. The authors found no direct relationship between gender and online behavior.
What are the key findings?
The five groups that comprise the newly developed spectrum of Internet addiction are:
Casual users (14.86%): These people tend to go online for very specific tasks and then withdraw without spending much time. They showed no symptoms of addiction and were the least interested in trying new apps. Average age: 33.4.
First-time users (22.86%): While these adults did not consider themselves addicted, they often found themselves spending more time online than originally planned. They reported that they neglected household chores somewhat and had moderate interest in downloading new apps. Average age: 26.1.
Experimenters (21.98%): People in this group felt uncomfortable or anxious when they were offline, and these feelings disappeared as soon as they logged back in. They were also more willing to use new apps and technologies. Average age: Between 22.8 and 24.3.
Addicts in Denial (17.96%): Those who fell into this category exhibited addictive behaviors such as: B. building virtual relationships and ignoring commitments to spend more time online, while others regularly complained about their online habits. They did not admit to feeling uncomfortable being disconnected and reported feeling fairly confident using new technologies.
Addicts (22.36%): These individuals were very aware of their Internet addiction and noticed the negative impact this addiction had on their lives. They are also the most confident group when it comes to trying new apps.
The researchers also found that across all groups, emotional experiences—how users felt while spending time in an app—strongly predicted future behavior when interacting online.
What experts think
Sheela Rajaclinical psychologist and Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago tells Yahoo Life that she found it interesting that investigators developed a scale. “Instead of saying that people were either addicted or not, they found that they fell on this continuum.”
Elizabeth Lombardoa clinical psychologist and author of Get out of the red zone, noted the compelling differences between two of the groups. “Even though the experimenters weren’t online for too long, they were moody compared to the Addicts-in-Denial,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Although the Addicts-in-Denial spent more time online, they did not report feeling as anxious as the experimenters, and I found this result a little surprising.”
Reading comments on Facebook or checking notifications on TikTok weren’t always considered pleasant experiences either. “Depending on their age and position on the continuum, some of the people in the study [those who landed higher on the spectrum] Although we were entertained, we didn’t really have any fun,” says Raja. “That speaks to the addiction aspect – we do something to prevent negative feelings from arising, but we don’t necessarily have positive emotions.”
However, Lombardo points out that watching videos on YouTube or scrolling through threads shouldn’t automatically be viewed as a problematic activity. “The question should be how someone feels when they are online,” she continues. “We know from old research that people can feel more depressed when using social media. But when we look at how people spend their time online, sometimes they are happier when they learn something new or, for example, when they interact more with others in some way [online] Support group.”
Why it matters
The goal isn’t to delete your social media accounts, but rather to develop a healthier relationship with your devices, explains Raja. Here’s how:
Place a rubber band around your phone. Raja mentions a book she read last year: How to break up with your phone by Catherine Price for providing practical strategies. One of her favorite tips is to put a rubber band around your phone. “Every time you try to unlock your home screen, the rubber band makes you pause for a moment,” she continues. “Then ask yourself: Why am I looking at this now? What is the purpose? And what else could I be doing in that time?” This tactic can help you distinguish whether you’re looking for an important work email or checking Instagram out of boredom. “Even if you do this for a few days, you will become aware of how often you check your phone. It’s mindfulness.”
Use a timer. Such devices can be extremely helpful, says Lombardo. “Looking at this latest study, some people spent more time online than expected. Whether it’s setting an app timer or an alarm, it’s about becoming more aware that 30 minutes have passed since you opened your phone.”
Find ways to achieve fulfillment. In her private practice, Lombardo asks her patients to describe the good aspects of social media to look for alternative ways to meet those needs. “For example, if someone says they use the internet to connect with others, find ways to connect with others in real life, even if that means FaceTime or Zoom,” she explains. “If you find yourself using social media to relax, find other ways to relax offline.”
Turn off push notifications. This will reduce the number of alerts on your phone. Raja suggests setting up push notifications in your messaging app so that only specific people in your contacts can send messages. “Then you can check the other messages if you decide. You own the relationship with your phone,” she says. Although it may seem challenging, Raja says setting other boundaries can help curb the urge to doom. “Instead of always being available to respond to every text message immediately, give yourself a set, set time to interact, such as once an hour,” she explains.
Set up phone-free zones. For example, try this at the dinner table to free yourself from a possible addiction. Raja, who has written four books about helping teenagers overcome fears and trauma, including: The resilient teenager, emphasizes the importance of putting distance between your phone and bed every night before bed. “People look at their phones 24/7 because they’re used to being entertained,” she notes. “If you want to develop a healthier relationship with your device, a fun thing would be to bring the alarm clock back into the bedroom instead of placing your phone on your nightstand or in bed and using it as an alarm clock,” Raja adds that It would be “ideal to put space between you and your phone” if you still want the phone to wake you up in the morning by placing it across the room.
Keep positive moments in mind when you’re not on the phone. TTo feel less anxious when you’re disconnected from your online community, Raja recommends writing down any observations you’ve made, as well as any interactions that occurred simply because you weren’t looking at your screen. “Maybe you noticed flowers while walking or had a funny conversation with a stranger in the elevator,” she says. “It’s about reminding yourself that you’re participating in life, which means you’re not missing out.” And if you’re looking for an empowering mantra to curb your online addiction, Raja offers this statement: “We own this device – we don’t own the device.”