SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Since inception, smartphones and social media sites have played a huge impact in our daily lives. We scroll, post, "like," and comment, for hours each day. We have shortened our attention span and have stared at the screen while sitting and eating with our loved ones and closest friends, keeping our attention focused on what is on the screen, rather than the people in the room with us.

We will scroll and “skim the information” on our phones obsessively and when we finally put the phone down we are hit with a feeling of doubt, worry, and fear about our unhealthy phone conduct and obsession. We don’t know why we can’t put it down, we just know we can’t. 

"Nationally, youth and adolescents are increasingly showing signs and symptoms of increased psychological issues, such as  anxiety and depressive symptoms and high rates of suicidal ideation. Today, evidence shows a correlation between overuse of smartphones and the negative impact is has on our mental health," says Sean Keagan Foley, a licensed social worker and a psychotherapist at Resolve Community Counseling Center in Scotch Plains.

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"Overuse of smartphones also negatively impacts the memory mechanism of our brain hindering academic success and a student’s ability to pay attention in class is greatly weakened," adds Foley. "Smartphones also contribute to feelings of increased isolation for youth and adults and significantly decrease the necessary face to face human connection needed to maintain a healthy mind and spirit."

Foley believes smartphone and social media overuse is a 21st century public health concern.

"This is a major issue, and we are seeing the effects of how smartphone use is increasing psychological disorders. Many of us young and old are becoming more addicted to our smartphones and it is causing a rise in the development of psychological and social problems to develop," says Foley, who is Assistant Director of Community Prevention at Prevention Links.

Some statistics:

  • Suicide rates for teenage girls have risen in the past 8 years.(CDC, 2017)
  • Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on onscreen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely. (Twenge, 2017.)
  • Since 2010, adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on onscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide. (Twenge, 2017).
  • Teens who spend five or more hours a day of screen time are 71 % more likely to have risk factors such as suicide and substance abuse.(Twenge, 2017.)
  • Teens on average use 6.5 hours a day on their smartphones. (Common Sense Media, 2015)

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6:30 p.m., Foley will host a town hall symposium at Cranford High School to discuss the negative effects that smartphones cause and what can be done about it. This symposium will have three important sections:

  1. Analysis of how the current technological revolution has disrupted our lives and the effects it has on our psychological behavior and neurological systems. 
  2. Examination of why technology has created these changes regarding how we think, act, react, learn and absorb information, and how it reduces our human connection.
  3. Discussion of best practices on how to use smartphones and technology in a safe and efficient manner that is conducive to our and our loved one’s mental health and well-being.

After the presentation will be a Q&A session with the audience.  

"This symposium is not designed to say that smartphones are bad, after all there are a lot of positives that this technology brings," Foley, a Scotch Plains resident, says. "Rather, it has been created to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals and their families as we continue on this road of rapid technological breakthroughs. It is important to be aware of the adverse effects that smartphones and new technologies may cause, especially for our youngest."

Foley is open about his own experiences.

"I found myself constantly distracted by my smartphone, unable to sit with my thoughts or focus for long periods of time with friends, family and at events," he says. "It was then that I realized that in our society that we have been blessed with the ability to speak to a friend or a loved one from another continent 5,000 miles away at any time, but we have lost the ability to connect to the loved one who is sitting five feet away from us."