‘Fear of missing out’ is one of the drivers causing student addiction to their smartphones

Imogen Fitzgerald, student at DMU, shares her thoughts on smartphone addiction

By Isobel Rix

A study revealing nearly four in 10 university students are addicted to their smartphone and have their sleep affected as a result has resonated with students in Leicester.

A study of 1,043 students aged 18-30 at King’s College London found that 406 (38.9%) displayed symptoms of smartphone addiction, as defined by a clinical tool devised to diagnose the problem.

Social media is specifically designed to keep its users coming back for more, creating an addiction that can never be satisfied. Never-ending feeds promote a feeling of never being able to see everything, leading to FOMO (fear of missing out).

For many students their phone can be an escape from the world of deadlines, jumping onto Instagram to admire other people’s day-to-day or scrolling TikTok for a hit of dopamine.

Imogen Fitzgerald, 20, a psychology with criminology student at De Montfort University, said: “I’m would definitely say I’m addicted to my phone, badly.”

Participants in the study were judged to be addicts if they could not control how long they spent on their phone, felt distressed when they could not access their phone, or neglected other, more meaningful parts of their life because they were busy on their device.

Imogen said: “I would definitely be stressed if I wouldn’t be able to have my phone.

“I have only recently started putting it on do not disturb when I go to bed, when I first started doing it I’d get really paranoid that I would miss something important.”

Among those under 21 in the study, 42.2% were found to be addicted, compared with 34.2% of those aged 22-25 and 28% of those aged 26 or over.

Imogen said: “The fear of missing out on something is definitely more prevalent in 18 to 20 year-olds because my age group has always grown up with (mobile) phones.

“A lot of my social life, especially at the minute, is through my phone and I do definitely have that fear of missing out on what my friends are going to say or something going on in the world on the news.”

The time you put your phone down before going to sleep also has implications for addiction. “Of those that stopped using their device more than an hour before bedtime, 23.8% exhibited addiction, compared to 42% of those stopping less than 30 minutes before bedtime,” the paper reports.

Imogen said: “I don’t think I’d be able to stop using my phone for a full hour before bed, I don’t think I’d have anything to use to preoccupy my mind.”

Students who used their phone after midnight or for four or more hours a day were most likely to be at high risk of displaying addictive use of their device.

In a snap survey conducted by Leicestershire Press all participants had a higher daily average than four hours, with most reaching between six and seven hours of screen time.

Freya Richeda, 21, a fashion buying with marketing student at De Montfort University and one of the participants in the survey, had a daily average of 9.5 hours.

Freya said: “I feel like when I first see the number, I’m like, ‘Woah that’s kind of high’ but in the next 20 minutes I’ll forget about it until I get the notification that my screen time has been calculated.

“It does bother me that it’s high, but I’ve accepted it, I don’t think I’m on my phone that much, but I guess it could be lower if I really tried.

“Maybe if I suffered from headaches or felt I’d wasted my day on my phone then I’d try and reduce it, but I feel like the time I spend on my phone is mostly talking to friends which isn’t a bad thing, especially during lockdown as it’s the only way I can speak to them.”

Khrista Davis, 21, a journalism student at De Montfort University, said: “My screen time is 10 hours and that is actually really, really bad. I’m not happy with that.

“Sometimes you’ll be scrolling through Instagram and then two hours later you’re still on Instagram, sometimes we don’t even catch ourselves.

“I was doing really well at one point, I put a limit on my apps for three hours max so I wouldn’t try to go over that, but you just dismiss it like an alarm.

“Social media is like a drug that people take in daily so I feel it’s just a pattern people repeat over and over again, just because it’s something they’re used to.”

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