Most modern parents complain about it. The Mobile Phone.. Their teen constantly jabbing at their screen in an attempt to answer every `LOL’ or `You there babe?’. The fact you’re half way through dinner or trying to fix on some crucial fact at the time makes it even more infuriating. But is the obsession with smart phones leading to something more sinister?

The anxiety disorder known as FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out is now an accepted phenomenon.  Not wanting to be `out of the loop’ for too long is nothing new, nor unreasonable. You’ve taught them manners, after all. It’s rude to miss a lunch appointment and or not reply to a letter. But phone addiction is not just on the rise,  it could also be fuelling youth exhibitionism.

girl-1848477_1920A recent survey from The Priory reveals a rise of 50% over four years in hospital admissions of teens suffering anxiety. Psychiatrists blame sexting and cyberbullying. At the same time the trend in the online grooming of underage girls is hard to counter.

Why are children posing naked in the first place? When I was growing up, shyness was all a part of adolescence.  If anything, the self-consciousness, hiding in the changing room or coyness about having a picture taken was usually the chosen behaviour, rather than the opposite. Exposing yourself to the world was an unnatural act. So it’s likely the trend of online nudity and group exhibitionism is being fuelled by a fear of being rejected or labelled boring, unattractive, uncool.

There is no law against posting nude selfies,  even though it’s a  serious criminal offence for someone else to take, hold or share indecent” photos of anyone aged under 18. But if the answer to sexting is dealing more with a phone obsession than a morality issue, how do parents and practitioners move forward?

While restricting mobile phone use is good start, it’s not that easy to enforce. If someone is becoming an online addict, taking their phone away is hard to do. Just half an hour offline can seem like an agonising age. The anxiety disorder manifests itself as a deeply uncomfortable feeling, akin to feeling disbanded and unwanted.  The feelings of low self-worth then makes the victims prime targets for internet predators.

Schools today have a difficult job dealing with the complexities of cyber behaviour.  But banning phones improves concentration in class and would also have the effect of tackling the root cause of social media addiction. Obviously the advancement of digital technology and our use of it is a huge positive asset to society and one to promote. However, it is critical we act together as a society to help vulnerable young people in our society.

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